Wexford playwright Billy Roche’s new play, Lay Me Down Softly, at the Peacock Theatre is a significant step or another round in the career of this popular writer. I use the boxing metaphor because this play is set in a boxing tent in a 1960s travelling show or carnival, Delaney’s Travelling Roadshow and a fully functional boxing ring dominated the tented stage.
I can’t off-hand think of an Irish play with such a strong boxing setting but it suits Roche’s style of exploring the bursts of hope, the dollops of disappointment, the impotent rage, the on again off again liking and disliking that follows a pattern of rounds, defeats or victories with time to celebrate or salve wounds and brood.
Theo is the boss and he is a paunchy shadow of a former self. He doesn’t go in for trust and hedges his bets with his prize fighter Dean, who takes on all-comers for a fixed purse. Lily is his brassy, peroxide girlfriend who has known love but is now too cynical or suspicious to experience it again. Peadar is an over-the-hill ex-boxer and now general handy man. It is possible that Peadar could be the father of Theo’s abandoned daughter, Emer, who turns up to seemingly get to know her father. Dean is the young cocky boxer who falls foul of an ex-professional boxer and Theo cynically gives Junior another, younger version of Peadar, washed up through injury, boxer cum handyman, a chance to regain his vanished pride. But when Emer arrives she awakens more than just Junior’s hope.
Gary Lydon is the flawed Theo and he inhabits these Wexford characters so well. Joe Doyle was Junior, Barry Ward was Dean at his most athletic. Aisling O’Sullivan sizzled in pink and peroxide prickliness as Lily. Ruth Negga was a beautiful feral force of nature as Emer and Lalor Roddy as Peadar was impressive as the older observant character who can only experience happiness in the lives of others.
There are references to Dungarvan, Cappoquin and Carrick-on-Suir in the play and the soundtrack features Brendan Bowyer in his heyday. Despite its rushed ending, this is a significant play by an Irish actor and should have a great life on the amateur circuit