A Handful Of Stars – review by Jackie Hayden


The following is a review by Jackie Hayden of A Handful of Stars by Billy Roche. The performance took place at Wexford Arts Centre on Friday, June 7, 2024.

The gestation of Billy Roche’s A Handful Of Stars dates from the mid-eighties and in this production, carefully-selected music included in Dan O’Brien’s atmospheric sound design conjures an earlier time when our pop kids were menaced by the likes of Roy Orbison and Dickie Rock and youths could be misspent in the Snooker Hall when the pubs weren’t open. This era in small town Wexford and its harshness is captured so well in Liam Doona’s magnificent set design enhanced by Paul Keoghan’s lighting and Jeni Roddy’s costume design.
Roche’s characters are people we feel we know almost as well as he does, possibly encountering them in our normal day-to-day situations. But underneath the normality rumble universal issues of greed, alienation, envy, struggle, disappointment, love found and misplaced, carried along on a tide of macho swaggering and swearing as the lads vie for supremacy in the snooker room and about town.
Central to it all is Jimmy, played to full intensity by Dermot Murphy as he loses control of his life and his rage at that loss and everything else, including latest girl-friend Linda (Eilish McLaughlin) who refuses to be casually used by him. Jimmy’s hate figures include Conway (Brian Doherty) whose relative success he despises, and he belittles his placid snooker pal Tony (Tiernan Messitt-Greene) who is about to be wed. Jimmy is being hotly pursued by Swan (with Gary Lydon receiving a spontaneous burst of applause when he first entered the stage) for his bad behaviour around the town.
Roche hardwires into his play’s development an overwhelming sense of foreboding and a growing realisation that things may not pan out well for Jimmy. Director Conall Morrison plays it straight and tight so every word and gesture requires your full attention throughout this staging by Four Rivers. Morrison had at his disposal the very fine talents of John Olohan as the put-upon Snooker Room manager Paddy, as well as Michael Power as Stapler to add to those other fine talents already mentioned. To judge by the standing ovation from the full house at the end, this was another triumphant night for Roche, for Four Rivers and for Wexford Arts Centre which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
A Handful Of Stars is the first of Roche’s Wexford Trilogy. Readings of the other two, Poor Beast in the Rain and Belfry, take place on Saturday 15th June at Wexford Arts Centre. Following that, there is a conversation between Billy and director Conall Morrison chaired by Tom Mooney at the same venue on June 16th. Also included on June 16th is ‘Coffee and Music with Billy Roche’ and a Wexford Trilogy walking tour with Bernard Browne. Details at wexfordartscentre.ie.
A Handful Of Stars continues to the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire June 18th-22nd.