Theatre 503’s well-received revival of Billy Roche’s A Handful Of Stars has transferred to the equally intimate Trafalgar Studios 2. This bleak coming-of-age story produces some excellent performances and has an impressive, understated quality.
Paul Robinson’s sensitive direction builds a quiet tension and reflects the play’s brooding desperation. Young friends Jimmy and Tony, played by Ciarán Owens and Brian Fenton, live in a small town with little to do except play pool and no aspirations other than joining a members-only snooker club. Tony comes to accept his future but Jimmy becomes wild and goes on the rampage.
The play is full of well-drawn and well-acted characters. Boyzone and Coronation Street star Keith Duffy understandably features in the promotion of the show. Duffy is good, confident and full of charisma, but his part, as a boxer at the end of his career, is one of the smallest. Joining him as foils for the youngsters are the elderly Paddy (Michael O’Hagan) and the miserly Conway (Colm Gormley). Pontificating and gossiping, both add a wary edge when dealing with Jimmy.
In a play very much about men, Maureen O’Connell holds her own as Linda, briefly Jimmy’s girlfriend, who further reveals his emotional inadequacy. Jimmy dwells on a haunting memory of brief affection between his parents that proves the key to all these young lives lack.
The relationship between Jimmy and Tony is skilfully depicted, their teenage banter mixed with a subtly suggested insecurity. Fenton’s gawky Tony is torn between fear of, and for, his friend. The show relies on the character of Jimmy, and Owens gives a sterling performance. A wild one in a familiar mould, through Roche’s skilful writing he is sure to connect with many who can remember a disappointed youth.
Until 25 July 2014
Photos by Richard Davenport
Written 2 July 2014 for The London Magazine