A Handful Of Stars reviewed by Liam Murphy, The Munster Express


Wexford Arts Centre celebrated its 50th Anniversary in style with the usual bells, whistles and a reception. But also presented Four Rivers stellar production of the Billy Roche play A Handful Of Stars. It was a glorious and, in some ways, a nostalgic occasion, as pre-Garter Lane, Wexford, was the inspiration and ambition to have an arts centre in Waterford. A Handful Of Stars is the first play in the Wexford Trilogy, and back in the eighties, I saw a Wexford production, then called The Boker Poker Club, and I had forgotten that a young Billy Roche was in that production.

I remember the emerging Waterford professional Theatre Company, Red Kettle, considering staging that play, but it got ‘lost’ in a discussion about recreating the Wexford accent.

Ben Barnes, the artistic director of Four Rivers, assembled a stellar cast under the direction of Conall Morrison to almost ‘terrorise’ the audience with a frightening and feral production with pounding music from the jukebox in a shabby claustrophobic pool hall with smelly toilet, a ‘one-armed bandit’ slot machine, a pot-bellied stove and a frame Sacred Heart overlooking the simmering angst and potent, cruel gossip, bravado and talk, cutting down people to size. The young rebellious ‘god’s gift’ shook with resentment as he raged against any authority of the smalltown, small-minded older figures. Dermot Murphy as Jimmy Brady was the tortured young man, a rebel against too many causes, and his feral ego could not prevent his headlong rage into a vortex of carnage. There were times when he looked into the audience, and it was frightening. He was frightened too, like a wounded animal backed into a corner, as he lashed pool balls around the small illuminated table.

It was great to see two Waterford actors, Michael Power as Stapler, the fading but angry boxer, who saw his early self in Jimmy. Brian ‘Dots’ Doherty was the factory supervisor, full of spite, and his belittling remarks cut into Jimmy and Jimmy’s taciturn friend, Tony (played with dogged devotion by Tiernan Messitt-Greene).

Eilish McLoughlin’s performance as Linda, Jimmy’s dissatisfied girlfriend, was a powerful reminder of how social values and the need for danger and attention shape people’s lives.

Other strong performances from John Olohan, and Gary Lydon as the repressed detective who understood smalltown values and hierarchies, and he would not be defied.