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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Lay Me Down Softly
Tricycle Theatre    Summer 2011

Billy Roche writes plays that are more about place than people, more about people than plot. He creates a solid, three-dimensional reality that includes offstage sites and characters, though you may find yourself spending the greater part of the play waiting for it to actually begin.

In this case the world is a travelling Irish carnival in the 1960s – a few rides, a few booths and especially a boxer who will take on all challengers for a cash prize.

All that happens through most of the play – and it all happens between scenes – is that a professional boxer takes the challenge, defeats the resident champ and then returns a few nights later, when the carnival handyman has to fight him.

(In the last five minutes of the play there are an unsurprising betrayal and a defection, suggesting that the real drama will begin after the curtain falls.) 

Your enjoyment of this play will depend on your giving up any expectation of a formal plot structure and just absorbing and appreciating the atmosphere Roche and his able cast create.

And there is a lot to be enjoyed there, in the understated warmth and almost ritualised teasing and in-joking of people who have been together forever, in the telling character touches like the way the boss is enraged by one employee's skimming but winks at another's, and especially in the way the mention and description of a dozen never-seen characters makes them as real as those onstage. 

What can limit your enjoyment is the growing awareness that nothing is actually happening, and the suspicion that the sudden events of the last few moments are arbitrarily tacked on to a play that wasn't inevitably heading toward them.

The playwright directs with absolute authority and solid reality, and there are particularly strong performances by Gary Lydon as the boss, Simone Kirby as his lady friend and Michael O'Hagan as his oldest employee.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -   Lay Me Down Softly - Tricycle 2011

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