A Handful Of Stars – a review by Katy Hayes (Irish Independent)


An electric revival of Billy Roche’s portrait of masculinity in crisis, 1988 style

According to the programme, this Four Rivers production is the first ever revival of A Handful Of Stars in Ireland. Billy Roche’s portrait of out-of-control male youth premiered in London’s Bush Theatre in 1988 and established the writer’s reputation. It’s a startling play full of raw emotion but couched in a lyrical poetic gloss.

We meet angry young man Jimmy Brady, hanging out in the local snooker hall, on a path to destruction. It digs into his psyche looking for an explanation but has the wisdom to find none. His pent-up frustration is left mysterious; it is for the audience to figure out. Is it simply Wexford that is suffocating him? Is the problem that he has large ambition in a small place? Was he just born bad like his father before him?

Dermot Murphy gives an outstanding performance as Jimmy: intense, flustered, a powder-keg on the verge. He is matched by Tiernan Messitt-Greene as the sidekick Tony, a quieter lad warily facing marriage after getting his girlfriend pregnant. They are joined in a sweetly assertive turn by Éilish McLaughlin as Linda, Jimmy’s girlfriend. Jimmy has everything going for him, looks, sparky personality, courage, but he cannot find a right way to live. This is masculinity in crisis, 1988 style. Was masculinity ever not in crisis?

Several of the cast are local adding a thick layer of small-town connectivity. The young actors are surrounded by a coterie of veterans. John Olohan is the snooker hall owner, a kind-hearted old codger. Brian Doherty is the supercilious Conway, small-town heartlessness writ large.

Michael Power is Stapler, the washed-up boxer who tries to save Jimmy from himself; and Gary Lydon, who played Jimmy in the original production, is now the thuggish policeman on his case. As the older guys try to steer Jimmy on to some sort of right track, equally these superb older actors buttress the core energy of the younger talents. Conall Morrison’s direction pushes the mood to an intense pitch, respecting the high stakes and finding an explosive core.

This is an electric production and one of the best revivals I’ve seen in a while. Murphy’s performance as Jimmy is superb, a serious talent taking audacious risks. But the star of the show is the play, Roche’s well-crafted lines linger long after you’ve left the theatre.

(Online review for Irish Independent)