A Handful Of Stars/Poor Beast In The Rain/Belfry
Bush Theatre, London W12
Opened 6-19 November, 1992

Two weeks ago A Handful Of Stars (see separate review) began the revival of Billy Roche's trio of plays set in his home town. Now that all three plays are up and running, the full scope of Roche's writing and the Bush's magnificent production are gloriously apparent. The stage is transformed between plays (God alone knows where they store the spare pieces of set) as the location switches from gaming club to betting shop to parish church, but Roche's focus on the intensities of feeling in ordinary lives is masterly throughout.

In Poor Beast, Eileen leaves her emotionally stunted father to go back to London with her mother's lover Danger Doyle, whose brief return to Wexford opens several cans of worms sealed for a decade or so; in Belfry, sedate middle-aged sacristan Artie O'Leary finds himself becoming the father he never knew himself both to mentally challenged altar boy Dominic and even to Father Pat, while simultaneously discovering himself through a love affair with the married Angela. There are persistent motifs of rewriting or trying to recapture the past, of the golden life elsewhere (usually London), but most of all of every character's search for fulfilment in lives that were never destined to be exceptional.

Gary Lydon gives a fiery set of performances: Jimmy Brady, trying vainly to break out through petty crime; Georgie, through the ardour of young love; and Father Pat, taking refuge from pastoral pressures in the bottle. The smug, nowhere gobshites played by Des McAleer in Handful and Poor Beast metamorphose into the troubled, melancholy Artie in Belfry it's a beautiful modulation. Roche's past in rock bands shows through in gorgeously telling use of songs from PiL to Sounds Incorporated via the Stones, with an awareness that begs comparison with Wim Wenders. Any trivial reservations about Poor Beast (its archetypal dramatic curve, climaxing in a drunken exchange of home truths, smacks of the "difficult second play" syndrome) evaporate in the context of the trilogy as a whole, which is simply the fringe theatre event of the year and then some.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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