THEATRE / A map of the heartlands: The Wexford Trilogy - The Bush, London W12
Wednesday 09 December 1992
The three plays have no continuity of character or story-it is their common themes and voice that yoke them together. Yet what is remarkable about seeing them together is how they enhance one another, each offering a different route into similar material. Roche may deal in small spaces and small lives, but he does so with such depth and compassion that his plays become huge; he may deal with frustration, but he writes such earthy, funny dialogue that the plays sprint along, affirming their characters' spirit and importance even while detailing their shortcomings.
All three plays handle repression, loneliness, extinguished hopes and the misdemeanours of fathers being repeated by their sons. Yet the trilogy progresses in spirit - the plays finish with rebelliousness; then resignation, then rebirth.
A Handful of Stars, set in a shabby pool hall, moves like a western. Men make their entrances bursting through the door, to hold the floor with gossip and insults. Roche focuses on Jimmy and Tony, two likely lads who are about to take their places in the scheme of things: Tony by marrying his pregnant girlfriend and subsiding into mediocrity and Jimmy by running riot and getting himself classed as a trouble-maker. The play's strength, though, is that it does not simplify - Jimmy is the son of a violent father, but he is also goaded on by the manipulative Conway, and infuriated by the town's corruption.
In Poor Beast in the Rain Roche shifts his focus to the no-hopers left behind. This time we are in the betting shop run by Eileen and her father, whose wife ran off long ago with the rebel 'Danger' Doyle. More brittle, funnier and yet sadder than A Handful of Stars, the play probes around the hole left by the couple's departure. When Danger returns to coax Eileen to visit her mother in England, the audience realises how small was the real stature of this man, compared with the size conferred upon him by those he left. Roche combines a sense of the ridiculous with the tragic - as Eileen leaves with Danger, repeating step for step the actions of her mother, her father's dignified pain is heartbreaking.
But the final play, Belfry, is the finest. More complicated in structure - composed of flashbacks that shift back and forth in time - it also moves forward a stage thematically. This time the protagonist breaks out of his confines and gains something. This is a tale of passionate love between Artie, a middle-aged sacristan, and the married housewife who comes to do the altar flowers. For Artie, both sexual and paternal love come in borrowed form - love towards Angela, someone else's wife, and towards Dominic, the misunderstood altar boy, someone else's son. He loses both, but rediscovers something of his father's nonconformist spirit, which has been repressed in him. Roche deftly illustrates the vulnerability and loneliness of his characters, but also their courage, and in Artie's affection for Dominic celebrates a quiet, selfless love.
Robin Lefevre's lovingly detailed productions are packed with excellent performances - most notably from Des McAleer, Aidan Gillen and Gary Lydon - and Andrew Wood's designs are so convincing that the day I was there a drinker from the pub downstairs had to be forcibly restrained from trying to have a game of pool on the set.
'The Wexford Trilogy' continues at the Bush, W12: 081-743 3388.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones, season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Martin Scorsese 'in shock' after death on set of new film Silence
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures