Fresh from its sold-out run at Theatre 503, Billy Roche’s Wexford-based story of manhood comes to the West End. Partly, no doubt, thanks to ex-Boyzone member Keith Duffy playing the charismatic Stapler.
The story moves in and around an Irish pool hall, where the men and boys are separated only by the door to the “members only” room. Jimmy and his best mate fritter their days away shooting pool, waiting for their lives to take shape. They’re expected to take up menial jobs, settle down with a wife and have kids. Stapler (Keith Duffy), an ageing boxing hero the boys admire and look to for guidance, provides the only example of a heroic life. But when trouble-maker Jimmy argues with his girlfriend and risks the anger of policeman Swan, he spirals towards his own destruction. If only to prove that “no one’s going to wrap him up in a nice, neat little parcel.”
A Handful of Starsis the first in what Billy Roche calls his ‘Wexford trilogy’. It premiered in 1988, followed a year later by Poor Beast in the Rain and then Belfrey in 1990. Though doubtless due to his many years living in Wexford, Roche says he doesn’t set plays there deliberately. “The Irish talk a lot. If you're in a bar for five minutes, you will know someone's life story,” he says, “Also, the language is new and fresh to [the English.] I was once given great credit for one line – ‘she was dying alive about somebody’ - I took the credit, but someone says that in Wexford every day!” In 1993, Handful was made into a TV movie starring Liam Cunningham as Stapler and Dervla Kirwan as the girlfriend, Linda.
More than twenty years since its first run, the new cast have fallen in love with Roche’s script. Speaking to Maureen O’Connell, a young RADA graduate who plays Linda recounts that they all arrived at rehearsals with the lines learnt. “It was really led by Ciaran Owens as Jimmy. He was so strong and committed from the outset that you felt you had to keep up. The script is amazing; funny and very sad at the same time. It's incredibly true to life and you feel like Billy has written about people you know.” She attributes the production’s success to the camaraderie between director Paul Robinson and his cast. “You could try anything you wanted in rehearsal it was very freeing and felt dangerous... We hope we've brought that rawness and freshness on stage too.”
Despite their different backgrounds, Keith Duffy and Ciaran Owens are in a similar position; their respective experiences as a former pop star and recent drama graduate mean that the stage is still new territory. But you would never guess from their swaggering performances, which shift from comedic to occasional violence. A Handful of Starts of the best revivals this year and will doubtless thrive at the Trafalgar Studios. If you missed it at Theatre 503, make sure to catch it in the West End.
|What||A Handful of Stars, Trafalgar Studios|
|Where||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
25 Jun 14 – 25 Jul 14, 7:45 PM – 10:00 PM
|Website||Click here to book via ATG Tickets|