Sunday, 18 May 2014

Theatre review: A Handful of Stars

A crumbling pool hall in 1980s Ireland is the setting for a number of disappointing lives to play out in Billy Roche's A Handful of Stars: Its owner Paddy (Michael O’Hagan) is elderly and in bad health, and mocked even by the local police for how little his life has amounted to. Retired boxer Stapler (Keith Duffy) is attempting a comeback which isn't going too well, and only proving that his best days are behind him. And Tony (Brian Fenton) is about to get married to a girl he got pregnant; his biggest ambition in life is to be invited into the Members' Room of the pool hall, where there's a full-sized snooker table and nicer chairs. In the middle of all this is Tony's friend Jimmy (Ciarán Owens,) who turns up for a game most nights. Witty and energetic, Jimmy has however observed how trapped in their lives the men in his town are, and knows he's no different.

With his family's reputation meaning nobody will consider him for a job, Jimmy's frustrations come to a head when his girlfriend Linda (Maureen O’Connell) breaks up with him just as his friend's about to get trapped by a shotgun wedding. His petty law-breaking and acts of rebellion all come together in one big self-destructive night.

Not a huge amount actually happens in A Handful of Stars, especially not on stage, but it still feels packed with incident. The production may be being marketed on the back of Keet-from-Boyzone, but it's very much Jimmy's story, and Owens, who's becoming ever more watchable, takes him plausibly through the play's development as quiet frustration turns into unrestrained anger.

Signe Beckmann's set has a suitably down-at-heel, claustrophobic feel, and Paul Robinson's production is tight with strong performances from the supporting cast. But Owens is the reason to see this, and after a number of good supporting turns of his own, he here sets out his stall convincingly as a leading man.

A Handful of Stars by Billy Roche is booking until the 24th of May at Theatre 503.

Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes including interval.

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