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.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 VMAs 2015: Was Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' awkward acceptance put-down real or staged?
- 2 If you're not already angry about the migrant crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
- 3 Rules on 5p plastic bags likely to lead to arguments at the check-out
- 4 Chaos breaks out in courtroom as father attacks killer of three-year-old daughter
- 5 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge on the show?'
Trevor Noah, Edinburgh Fringe review: New Daily Show host warms up in inspired style
X Factor 2015: Ratings drop almost 2 million compared to last year's launch show
VMAs 2015: Kanye West runs for president, Nicki Minaj calls out Miley Cyrus and the list of winners in full
VMAs 2015: Taylor Swift and her buddy Kendrick Lamar clean-up at awards - full list of winners
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
UN investigating British Government over human rights abuses caused by IDS welfare reforms