This new revival of Irish writer Billy Roche’s A Handful of Stars is a slick and pacey production that sees the cast breeze quickly through a smooth and straightforward text. It’s the classic tale of a bored down-and-out who succumbs to the thrill of crime and the lure of an infamous reputation. In the quiet rural town of Wexford, Jimmy Brady (Ciarán Owens) is carelessly pursuing the girl, the chase and acceptance into the ‘members only’ back room of the local pool bar. There’s not a lot more to it, but Roche’s colloquial text flows well and manages to fill this bleak story with a great deal of warmth.
Signe Beckmann has imbued the cosy setting of Theatre503 with an air of crudeness. Coupled with appropriately dim lighting and an 80s pop soundtrack by composer and lighting designer Simon Slater, the setting of a scruffy pool bar is given the distinct air of a venue too long neglected.
Direction from Paul Robinson is strong, with a nice balance of comedy and tension. Small nuances such as a quick glance through a window by bar owner Paddy (Michael O’Hagan) add light relief and keep the show fresh. There’s not much space in the bar – particularly with a large pool table taking up most of it – but it’s staged well, making use of the door frames and crevices to give a remarkably roomy feel.
Young actor Owens brings a devilish charm to delinquent Jimmy. Initially brooding and charismatic, Owens plays him with a wit and a wry grin that makes believing his hold over sidekick Tony (Brian Fenton) relatively easy. The two come together nicely in a touching relationship that sees Tony stand by Jimmy despite his misdemeanours. His shy and dorky persona is aptly portrayed by Fenton, who makes his typically awkward manner seem natural in a pair of large frames and slightly too high-waisted jeans. Both allow a hidden vulnerability and longing to shine through their performances, which gives this unlikely pairing a firm connection and makes their final scene together all the more tender.
This production also marks the stage début of former Boyzone singer Keith Duffy. As thirty-something rough-and-ready boxer Stapler, he delivers a commendably understated performance that will likely ensure his foray into theatre won’t end here. O’Hagan also stands out as the gruff and embittered Paddy, whilst Maureen O’Connell (Linda), Colm Gormley (Conway) and Michael O’Connor (Swan) make up the rest of this strong ensemble.
A Handful of Stars is playing at Theatre503 until 24 May. For more information and tickets, please see the Theatre503 website.