A Handful Of Stars

Billy Roche

Ciaran Owens as Jimmy Credit: Richard Davenport
Ciaran Owens and Maureen O'Connell Credit: Richard Davenport
Keith Duffy and Michael O'Hagan Credit: Richard Davenport

A Handful of Stars was first performed in 1988 as part of Billy Roache’s Wexford Trilogy; this production at Theatre503 is the play’s first professional stand-alone revival.

Offering a glimpse into the lives of a variety of characters that frequent Paddy’s Pool Hall, the play is moody and gritty but also surprisingly humorous with the men of the piece discussing the gossip of the sleepy Irish town with great enthusiasm.

The narrative is straightforward with act one used as a vehicle to introduce the men and their relationships and act two leading to a predictable and suitably dramatic ending. The growing tension is reinforced with a pumping soundtrack full of 80s classics which lend the piece a sharpness as the tracks don’t just cover scene changes but aid the brooding atmosphere.

The inevitability of the violent conclusion is foreseen by the other characters and is lamented even by our anti-hero who knows that he is a rebel without a cause. Jimmy Brady is a young man going nowhere fast and Ciaran Owens perfectly captures the swagger and arrogance of such a youth.

There are flashes however, of great warmth beneath his sarcasm and macho persona suggesting that, given the right chances in life, he could genuinely make something of it. Owens handles the emotional journey with aplomb and, despite all of Jimmy’s faults, you can feel some sympathy for this angry young man.

His long-suffering best friend Tony aims to be the voice of reason; Brian Fenton’s quiet portrayal is the perfect complement to the brashness of Jimmy. Tony has his own problems which are discussed at length. It becomes clear that he is a young man taking the path of least resistance, not actually any happier with his lot than the obviously discontented Jimmy.

These two examples of youth are surrounded by older but not necessarily wiser men who frequently offer unwanted advice and opinions. Colm Gormley offers a smug and self-satisfied Conway, whilst Keith Duffy creates a downtrodden hard man whose heart is actually in the right place. Michael O’Hagan provides a link with the past through the character of Paddy and is completely believable as this harassed old man.

There isn’t anything massively innovative about this play, but, with such strong performances, there doesn’t need to be. It is an evening of convincing storytelling with a script that hasn’t aged and won’t begin to until society has managed to eradicate dissatisfied youth.

The angry young man has not been consigned to the history books just yet.

Reviewer: Amy Yorston

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