George Hull

Keeping the show on the road

In his new play, Billy Roche takes a serious risk, which at first looks like a serious mistake.

Keeping the show on the road
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Lay Me Down Softly (Tricycle Theatre, until 6 August) is set in Delaney’s Travelling Roadshow, sometime in the 1960s, in the middle of the Irish countryside — even the characters don’t know where. A string of exciting crimes of passion is being committed at the rifle range, in Paddy Hickey’s Mercedes and by the bumper cars. But we only hear about these. Our view is dominated by the boxing ring, which Theo Delaney (Gary Lydon, above) himself admits is a sideshow. We don’t even see the fights, as these take place in the blackouts between scenes in which Roadshow staff pick up chip papers, swap unsparkling banter and talk over each other about the remote past. Life, it seems, is elsewhere.

Two new arrivals are making trouble for Theo: a pro boxer who floors his star ‘Killer Deano’; and Emer, Theo’s daughter by a previous lover, whom he and his boxing coach, Peadar, dumped in Dungarvan 20 years earlier. Emer has run away from her mother. Now she wants to run away again.

We, by contrast, find we have warmed imperceptibly to the low-key world of the Roadshow. So much so that when Peadar (Michael O’Hagan) risks everything to help Emer and her boyfriend escape on the milk train bound elsewhere, we realise we’d rather stay with this brave old man and find out if his belated sacrifice can assuage decades of guilt.