Set in a travelling roadshow that has put down somewhere deep in rural Ireland in the 60s, Lay Me Down Softly is a Billy Roche play, directed by the playwright too, that in currently playing at the Tricycle Theatre. The main attraction is the boxing ring around which the community of travellers sleepily coalesce, headed by roadshow owner Theo, but when Theo’s long-lost daughter and a professional boxer with something to prove both turn up, the scene is set for major upheaval.
Roche’s play is very good at evoking the familial atmosphere of this closely-knit group and passages of reminiscences are well written, delivered by a most engaging cast. But having created this world, populated it so effectively and then provided the catalyst for drama with the new arrivals, the play doesn’t progress in this way, instead staying at the same lugubrious pace pretty much throughout until its violent finale.
The few times it threatens to burst into action, things happen off-stage and are just referred to as the focus in on the building up of these character studies: whether it’s the cashier Lily, Theo’s lover although mainly out of a desperation to have something to do; the young boxer whose eyes light up at the prospect of an escape route; or the trainer, fiercely loyal to his boss but aware of the opportunity offered to his young charge.
Overall, this is just not the kind of play-writing that excites me and so it became something of a trial to get through, especially with a running time inflated by an interval that was entirely unnecessary. The acting is really very good in places and the way in which the characters are built up and interact with each other really is special, it is just a shame that there isn’t a plot to go along with them.