Billy Roche

Criticism


Life
1949- [William Michael Roche]; b. Wexford, ed. Christian Brothers; became barman, factory hand, and builder’s labourer; singer in 1975, then actor, and finally a writer; Tumbling Down (1986), a novel about the no-hope denizens of a Wexford pub;
 
wrote a play, The Boker Poker Club, centred on Johnny Doran, a small-town rebel and set in a snooker hall; premiered at Wexford Arts Centre with a local cast including himself as Stapler, 1986, and reissued as A Handful of Stars (1988), the first of the ‘Wexford Trilogy’, being played successfully at the Bush Theatre; winner of John Whiting Award and Plays and Players Award for Most Promising Playwright;
 
Poor Beast in the Rain (1989), originally conceived as ‘Runaway’, set in a betting shop and commissioned by the Bush Theatre; winner of Thames TV Bursary Award, Charrington Fringe Award, and George Devine Award; Belfry (1991), set in the local church; all three played to full houses at the Peacock, Dublin, and the Bush Theatre, London; writer in residence at Bush Theatre, 1989;
 
produced on BBC TV (Summer 1993); also Amphibians (1992) and The Cavalcaders (1993; rev. 2007?); new novel, The Sound of a Lonely Lute (1993); lives in Wexford with wife Patty and three daughters; Poor Beast in the Rain revived under direction of Conor McPherson (Gate, May 2005); issued Tales from Rainwater Pond (2006), stories; Roche was the subject of an interview session at the Synge Summer School, June-July, 2009. OCIL

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Works
Drama
  • The Wexford Trilogy: A Handful of Stars, Poor Beast in the Rain and Belfry, afterword by Billy Roche (Nick Hern Books 1994), 190pp. [‘Afterword’ 187-89pp.]
Novel
  • Tumbling Down (1986; reiss. Tassel Publ. 2008), 159pp
Short fiction
  • Tales from Rainwater Pond (Thomastown: Pillar Press 2006), 302pp. [12 stories].
Journalism
  • ‘My Summer Job: Blood, Swear and Tears’, in The Irish Times (8 Aug. 1996), p.8.

See also “Maggie Angre: A Short Story”, in Irish Studies in Brazil [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1], ed. Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra (Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), pp.35-45.]

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Criticism
  • Colm Tóibín, ‘The Talk of the Town: The Plays of Billy Roche’, in Druids, Dudes and Beauty Queens: The Changing Face of Irish Theatre, ed. Dermot Bolger (Dublin: New Island Press 2001), pp.30-54;
  • Christopher Murray, ‘Billy Roche’s Wexford Trilogy:; Setting, Place, Critique’, in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre, ed. Eamonn Jordan (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2000), pp.209-223.
  • Conor McPherson [interview], in Theatre Talk: Voices of Irish Theatre Practitioners, ed. Lilian Chambers, Ger Fitzgibbon, Eamonn Jordan, et al. (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2001), pp.409-23;
  • Mar[ina] Carr, ‘The Plays of Billy Roche’, in Journal of the Irish Irish Theatre Forum, 1, 1 (Summer 1999) - available online [accessed 02.08.2011].
  • Kevin Kerrane, ed., The Art of Billy Roche: Wexford as the World (Blackrock: Carysfort Press 2012), q.pp.

Listen to Billy Roche talking about his plays on BBC3 during July 2011.

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Commentary
[Q.a.], review of The Wexford Trilogy, at The Bush (London, W12), Independent (9 Dec.1992), incls. A Handful of Stars, Poor Beast in the Rain, and Belfry. Set in the snooker [pool] hall, the betting shop, and the church belfry; ‘... well-versed in the emotional geography of small-town life ... The three plays have no continuity of character or story - its is their common themes and voice that yokes them together. ... Roche may deal in small spaces and small lives, but he does so with such depth and compassion that his plays become huge; 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. Robin Lefevre, prod.; with Des McAleer, Aiden Gillen, Gary Lyndon; desgn. Andrew Wood.

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Mary Carr, ‘The Plays of Billy Roche’, in Journal of the Irish Theatre Forum, 1, 1 (Summer 1999): ‘Of the handful of new Irish writers to come to prominence in recent years, Billy Roche is one of the most compelling. In his refusal to assume the traditional concerns of Irish theatre, Roche has emerged as an almost frightening bearer of an Ireland without historical or religious resonances, a writer whose work is at the same time most local ( the crippled working class life of Wexford town) and at the same time modern and universal. Roche’s dramas represent a radical departure from the traditional themes of Irish theatre. A Handful Of Stars (1988), Poor Beast in the Rain (1989), Belfry (1991) - the three plays which make up the acclaimed The Wexford Trilogy - as well as his subsequent works Amphibians (1992) and The Cavalcaders (1993) offer a remarkable chart of artistic development and one that challenges on many levels our expectations of Irish theatre. [...]’ (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, “Criticism > Monographs”, via index, or direct.)

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Quotations
The Wexford Trilogy (1994), Afterword; remarks on A Handful of Stars (1988): ‘What it was that pleased an English audience I’ll never really know. And what stuned a Wexford audience into silence I can only guess. Perhaps in our hearts we all believe that we actually owe a little debt of gratitude to the small town rebel who refuses to ave his wings clipped or his tongue tied, who refuses to swallow the bitter pill of convention or to accept the so-called rules and reglulations that are applied within the seedy world of the snooker hall. Maybe we feel privileged to stand in his dangerous shadow and we long to walk a little bit of the way with him as he goes hurtling towards his own self destruction.’ (p.187.)

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Rainwater Pond” [the husband to-be contemplates the coming marriage with growing hatred of his fiancée]: ‘But what could he do? The hotel was booked and the band was hired and the honeymoon was almost paid for. They would lose all their deposits if they pulled out now. They would lose the lot.’ (Quoted in Brigid O’Toole, review of Rainwater Pond, in Books Ireland, April 2007, p.76; from title story.)

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Notes
My Summer Job: Blood, Swear and Tears’ (The Irish Times, 8 Aug. 1996, p.8), is a short account of four weeks working in a hotel, presumably during adolescence.

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