A Handful Of Stars – Review

Ciarán Owens in A Handful of Stars. Photo by Richard Davenport
Ciarán Owens in A Handful of Stars. Photo by Richard Davenport

In the great league tables of angry young men I’m guessing Wexford’s bad boy, Jimmy Brady, would smoulder somewhere down the bottom.

In Billy Roche’s A Handful Of Stars, which opened last night at the Trafalgar Studios, in London, Jimmy is a bit of a lost soul.

Branded with the notoriety of his family name and a chip the size of his favourite pool table on his shoulder, the lad’s future is clearly marked out.

Roche’s bleak play, which originally played at the Bush Theatre more than 25 years ago, gives a portrait of a town’s young men burdened with little hope or expectations.

Their empty lives revolve around a shabby bar that divides its few patrons into the haves and have-nots. A private members section, behind a locked door, boasts a snooker table.

But Jimmy, and his mate Tony, are on the outside looking in. They remain on the other side of the locked door with only the odd game of pool to relieve the monotony.

It’s a depressing scenario. The men either work in the local factory or are jobless. They get their girlfriends knocked up and are rail-roaded into shotgun marriages.

Or, if you’re our protagonist, you don’t have any qualms about petty theft, burglary or worse. If there are a handful of stars shining down on the righteous then they’re not aiming for the likes of Jimmy Brady.

Theatre 503 revived the play earlier this year at its intimate venue in Battersea and is delighted that the production has now transferred to a West End venue.

The big “name” they hope will put bums on seats is Boyzone singer and actor Keith Duffy, late of Coronation Street and RTE’s The Clinic who makes a very respectable UK stage début.

keith duffy as stapler

But actually his part, of washed up boxer and womaniser Stapler, is secondary to the pair of actors sharing the role of Jimmy – Ciarán Owens and Morgan Best.

Stapler is a bit of a father figure to Brady, trying to keep the boy out of trouble, but he is also flawed, cheating on his wife with a hairdresser, liking the drink a little too much, and messing up a planned comeback in the ring.

Duffy gives a confident performance. He has all the right moves though I don’t fancy his chances in a real match despite his swagger and confidence.

Ciarán Owens has grown markedly since playing the wee boy in Angela’s Ashes. He has his work cut out finding anything the audience can sympathise with in Jimmy.

Just when you begin to give a damn he erupts with violence against those who are closest. It’s a visceral turn.

Brian Fenton, as mate Tony, is often on the end of a beating – either verbally or physically – but he gives strong support to a very unlikable character.

Billy Roche’s Irish banter between the men and the bar’s caretaker, Paddy, is engaging and, at times comic, but he paints a depressing picture of a community that’s lost and without focus.

Director Paul Robinson concentrates the action in and around the pool table, which, by default, has become the focal-point of the men’s lives.

A Handful Of Stars is compelling melodrama with powerful performances, particularly from Owens and Duffy.

Running at the Trafalgar Studios until July 25.

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