Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Art of Billy Roche: Wexford as the World ed. Kevin Kerrane

With a great black and white still from The Cavalcaders at The Peacock Theatre Dublin in 1993 with Billy Roche, Barry Barnes, Gary Lydon and Tony Doyle set over a photo of the evening Wexford skyline, this book,published by Carysfort Press, is a treasure trove of one of Ireland's great talents, Billy Roche. He's a musician, he's an actor, a novelist, dramatist and screenwriter. Is there anything the man can't do? His use of Wexford as a microcosm of life is his trademark and the book is chock full of a wide variety of material.

With a working background in his father's pub in Wexford, as a construction hand and a car upholsterer, this early side of Billy Roche's life goes a long way towards explaining what Kevin Kerrane calls his 'easy familiarity with working class characters and settings'. Little known pieces of information are also revealed such as the 1993 BBC adaptation of The Wexford Trilogy with the original stage performers being archived on videotape in London.

The book has three sections; A Storyteller at Work, Overviews and Close-Ups. A Storyteller at Work has a scene from Roche's play A Handful of Stars, a short story A Lucky Escape about Tommy Day, a dance band singer and a 2001 'In Conversation' with playwright Conor McPherson, where Roche reveals that the themes of 'redemption, forgiveness and understanding are prominent' in his work.

There are five overviews the first being from Dominic Dromgole who was artistic director at The Bush Theatre, London and where Roche's work premiered, followed by an essay by Benedict Nightingale, Times theatre critic. Author Colm Toibin commends the living speech of Billy Roche's work, 'There is not a single line in his plays which could not be spoken by real people in a real place.' An overview by Conor McPherson, who also had his work put on at The Bush Theatre is followed by an interview by Patrick Burke,Director of Theatre Studies at St.Patrick's College, Dublin with the great Irish actress Ingrid Craigie who has acted in many of Roche's plays, who sees his work as the new form of tragedy, 'you can be sitting in a car or on a bus and people look ordinary but we've no idea what they're going through.'

There are then eleven close-ups, which are just that, closer looks at the themes present in Roche's work. This is a superbly detailed analysis of Roche's work and also a celebration. It will be of great interest to Roche friends, colleagues and fans as well as his Wexford followers but in a large way as an addition to the reference section for literature and theatre studies students.
I loved this book. My introduction to Billy Roche was relatively recently with a production of The Cavalcaders at The Abbey Theatre in 2007. With the marvelous John Kavanagh playing Josie he absolutely shone and his reappearance at the close in full Elvis sparkle in a window at the back of the stage was just a magical moment in theatre that has stayed with me to this day.

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