A Handful of Stars

A Handful of Stars is the gorgeous Theatre 503’s latest offering as part of its ‘Second Look’ programme. Billy Roche’s play captures the mood of a small Irish town where you marry the girls you get pregnant and having a job, any job, is a God-send. It focuses on the frustrations of masculinity being constrained in a town where futures are bleak and mundane.

Jimmy is good-looking lad on the verge of manhood, but rather than knuckling down and becoming a respectable member of society, he is intent on taking what he wants and taking out his frustrations. The local pool hall is his haunt and throughout the show the local townsfolk try to knock sense into him before his inevitable demise. The trouble is that by setting the action in a small town where nothing happens, well… nothing really happens. The plot meanders to its climax and I couldn’t help leaving thinking, ‘is that it?’

Ciaran Owens bristles with rage as he struts about the stage asking for trouble in the role of Jimmy. His swagger is reminiscent of James Dean and you can smell the desperation dripping from his forehead. Your typical bad boy. Jimmy’s nervous best friend Tony is equally ably played by Brian Fenton who retreats into himself further and further as Jimmy’s behaviour becomes more erratic. He anxiously twitches and skirts around the members only lounge which Tony so desperately wants to be invited into.

The star pull in this show is former Boyzone member, Keith Duffy as the just past his prime boxer Stapler. Duffy gives a damn good performance in the underwritten part and I would say he more than proves himself. His presence does draw in a diverse crowd and the woman sat next to me texting and applying lip gloss throughout the show was clearly part of the ‘ooo please sing Words in the second act’ brigade.

Director Paul Robinson centres the action around a shining pool table and the constant clink of snooker balls creates the dodgy atmosphere of a pub that you probably wouldn’t want to visit after 10.30pm. Signe Bekmann makes the most of Theatre 503’s space and the set is incredibly realistic, from the yellowing paint to the bashed up juke box in the corner.

A Handful of Stars is certainly a worth-while piece of theatre, but its lack of action left me feeling a bit dismissive of the character’s emotional journey. One of the most exciting points of the evening was when my companion and I helped free a woman who had got stuck in the pub’s recently renovated toilets. I’m not sure how long she was stuck in there for but hopefully she didn’t have a ticket for the show!

Reviewed by Roz Carter