Lay Me Down Softly

Mosshouse and Wexford Arts Centre present 'Lay Me Down Softly'.

Mosshouse and Wexford Arts Centre present 'Lay Me Down Softly'.

Before the drama begins to unfold in Wexford Arts Centre, Bui Bolg brings the audience into a world of light and shadows by masking the entrance and interior of the performance space with canvas and naked bulbs, creating the candy-striped boxing arena of The Academy Boxing Arena of Delaney’s Travelling Road Show, in which the play is set. Best use is made of the limited space available in the arts centre as the audience, seated on three sides of the boxing ring which forms the centrepiece of the stage, completes the picture and the often claustrophobic world of the play. Paul Keogan’s lighting design nicely complements the set using simple focused lights to enhance the atmosphere of the setting and create separate areas in the tight performance space.

Roche creates a world of grubby glamour set in the 1960s and “somewhere in Ireland”, which at first may appear nostalgic in the old fashioned charm of the set and preshow music of The Everly Brothers. However, any nostalgia is quickly exposed as deliberate artifice with the appearance of the characters: costumes and dialogue reveal a threadbare and violent reality where beauty is found only in jigsaw fragments, that prove cheap and shabby when fixed together. This violence is personified in the ringmaster, Theo Delaney, whose pursuit of power in the forms of money and physical violence exerts a terrible grip on the characters of this 'Lay Me Down Softly' at Wexford Arts From the outset, descriptions of offstage incidents add menace to Delaney’s character, and the popcorn and candyfloss that find their way onstage as the play progresses form subliminal sickly reminders of this menace, adding richness to a production that Roche directs with finesse.

In addition to Delaney, we meet hard man Dean, responsible for fighting anyone and everyone who wants to try their luck against him; Junior, a pretender to his place as number one fighter; Peadar, long-time trainer, “cut man” and fixer; and Lily who sells tickets at the shooting gallery and sleeps with Delaney to ease the loneliness of a broken life. Into this world arrives Delaney’s estranged daughter Emer who, having run away from home, hopes to find a better life on the road. She quickly realises, however, that the life she has found is no more than a gaudy sideshow and one in which violence and hurt is not confined to the boxing ring but permeates all events and relationships. She departs a week later taking Delaney’s most valued assets – Junior and the week’s takings.

The casts’ Wexford accents ring true and each actor expresses the complexities and nuances within their character and the text with a concentrated energy which has compelling narrative force. Roche has selected a cast with whom he has established working relationships and this translates to the characters’ relationships on stage, enabling the humour and pathos of the tale to resonate beyond the locale and find that epic quality that underscores the drama. Pagan McGrath, who plays Delaney’s daughter Emer, is worthy of special mention as her performance has an understated simplicity which is engaging to watch, and her ability to convey a kind of arrogant hopefulness that lingers, even after a final scene in which we expect but are not shown a violent dénouement, allows the audience to realise that hope and freedom remain possible even in the darkest of times.

The whistling notes of the calliope and the spit and blood of the boxing ring are Roche’s inspiration to tell stories of the heroes and antiheros of our times. The world of the fairground provides him with a dramatic device to portray the tragedy of those who have sought but often failed to find gentleness and peace in a chaotic and often cruel world. This production in its design, energy and focus is beautifully poignant and memorable.

Dr Úna Kealy is a lecturer in the Department of Creative & Performing Arts, Waterford Institute of Technology.

  • Review
  • Theatre

Lay Me Down Softly by Billy Roche

14 - 23 October, 2010

Produced by Wexford Arts Centre in association with Mosshouse
In Wexford Arts Centre

Directed by Billy Roche

Lighting Design: Paul Keogan

Set & Costume Design: Bui Bolg (Fionnuala McMullin, Frances White)

With: Anthony Morris, Dermot Murphy, Gary Lydon, Lesley McGuire, Michael O’Hagan & Pagan McGrath