Billy Roache Interview

March 12, 2011

Prize-fighter Dean takes on all comers on a nightly basis.  That is until a challenge from a professional fighter upsets the apple-cart. Inhabiting a forgotten world that is nonetheless brimming with all too-familiar passions and human foibles, Lay Me Down softly is another slice of vintage Billy Roche following on from his acclaimed Wexford Trilogy and other much-loved tales of small-town Ireland.

Set in rural Ireland in the year 1962 Lay Me Down Softly takes us into the burlesque world of Delaney’s Travelling Road show and its Boxing Booth. Meet Theo, the charismatic, violent ringmaster and his Carmen-like lover Lily. Rub shoulders with Peadar, Theo’s old tried and not-so-trusted sidekick, and Dean the vain and bragging prize-fighter, and the gentle, handsome, limping Junior. Say hello to Emer, the wounded waif of a girl who has come in search of her long lost, run-away father.

Here the playwright talks to Caomhan Keane about why the show has been revived just two years after its previous incarnation at the Peacock ; how it felt to direct and not just write his work and why even if you feel you screwed up an audition with him, it might not be the end of the world.

What is Lay Me Down Softly about?

It’s set in the boxing booth of a travelling road show of an old fashioned carnival. So it has a tragic, carnivilesque feel to it I suppose. It’s set in 1962. Although in many ways it’s quite a timeless piece. The fact that these boxing booths no longer exist kind of determine when it is set.

The basic story is about this group of fighters travelling around in this carnival. The lead character, Theo, owns the carnival but his pride and joy is the boxing booth which he calls “The Academy” .This little girl called Eimear shows up in search of her run away father so we are introduced to a past life of Theo.

This play was seen as recently as two years ago on the Peacock stage. What lead to its revival?

There is a danger in this age of plays just disappearing down the Swanee. The world is full of theatre groups who want the coup. And there is a danger that songs won’t be sung again. So I decided that I wanted to form a new company called Mosshouse. And we concentrate on neglected plays. Plays that haven’t been done the second and third time. So this is the first of at least three plays that I am going to direct.

Has there been any change to the script itself or is it just a new cast?

Things that disappeared from the first production have materialised again. I did a fair bit of work on it afterwards. There is a great benefit in having a production behind you. It gives you great hindsight. So it is a big help to have a production behind you. You learn what worked and what didn’t work.

A lot of your plays deal with sports. Snooker halls, hurling matches, boxing? Do you use sport as a metaphor for anything in particular or is it just an inescapable facet of small town Irish life?

It’s often a metaphor for various odds and ends. My plays are often set in men’s worlds. The masculine world suffering from the lack of women who, whether they know it or not, are searching for the feminine.

You told Conor McPherson that the acting needs to be impeccable for your plays to work. Are you heavily involved in the casting process of all your plays? What do you look for?

It’s very hard to say. Even great actors might not fit the bill with certain parts. You’re looking for a gem really. Often you can see it in a mistake someone makes during an audition. It’s very hard to put your finger on it. Some one who can just be the character and not act.

As a writer you learn to love your characters. Does it worry you that sometimes an actor will just play it black and white, good and bad?

Oh of course. That would be terrible. They say if you have a strong character you have to find a week spot and if you have a weak character you have to find a stregth. The nastier the character the more study you have to make. For a writer there is no point in writing about happy people.

You directed this play as well as writing it. How does the experience differ for you?

It’s a different kind of a thrill really. A different kind of responsibility. It’s much like when you act in your own plays. The actor has to win over the writer to make it work. The writer can hear the lines in a particular way. But as an actor you can hear it completely different and you just have to tell the writer to go away and not be annoying you. So it is a different responsibility being a director I think. It’s more practical. You got to take care of business. You have to forget that you wrote the play. I take things out. Stick them back in again and beat the play up. As a director you have to make sure it flows and the choreography works.



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