A Love Like That - Billy Roche is back with new play

By Hayden Moore

Change is something that we as Irish people can be quite stubborn about; we are generally stuck in our ways and happy to stay in our groove.

Playwright Billy Roche is tackling that mindset and how we move on in different stages with his brand-new play ‘A Love Like That’ which is set in an old library just days before they move on to a new building.

Peter Gowen Geoff Minogue and Lesley McGuire in A Love Like That by Billy Roche compressor

An actor, screenwriter, playwright, musician and short-story writer, Roche has dipped his toe in many different areas of art.

Billy caught up with The Echo last week when they were “breaking in” his new play ‘A Love Like That’ in Wexford to chat about the show, his time in the Roach Band and being the titular character in the cult film ‘Man About Dog’.

‘A Love Like That’ is your new play, can you tell me a little bit about it?

It’s set in an old library that’s about to close down and move to a new building down the road, but it’s probably a metaphor for the end of an era.

Most of my plays would focus on the change of attitudes within people. Ellen is the main character who is somewhere in the age bracket of 45 to 50.

She’s the chief librarian in this building and she’s led a majorly loveless and lifeless life. My friends always ask me: ‘why do your plays always end in tears?’, and it’s because that’s more realistic than the ‘everyone is happy’ ending – people are much more flawed and complex than that.

How long did it take you to write the new play?

It usually takes me about three to four years to write a new play because I never just sit down and write it in one go. I’m always writing a bit then leaving it and coming back.

Time shows you everything – at first when you write something you think it’s great and then go back to it a few months later and realise it’s terrible. So, I like to take my time with them.

Is it set in current times or in the past?

People watching plays today mightn’t necessarily remember the 1950s and ’60s, so I try not to set them in a time period. For instance, I have written about old snooker halls and barbershops that play heavily on being nostalgic but that feeling might not work today.

I tried to write this play in a timeless sense because there is a danger in the here and now, if I write about things happening when I started writing four years ago then by the time I get it on stage it’s old news. Life, death, love, marriage and things of that nature are eternal themes, so I try use them in my plays.

You had varied success with the Roach Band in the late 1970s but what initially made you make the turn to writing in the ’80s?

I was the front man with the Roach Band, but if the world had let me then I would have been a folk singer. I guess you could probably call me a troubadour, I was always thinking how do I spread my stories whether its through song, short stories, film or a play.

When I get an idea for something, I have to figure out what form it would work best in, but that can take a very long time.

Then because it is my livelihood it can be quite difficult.

Billy Roche compressor

Billy Roche

You’re back on the road performing music now?

I have a good story about this actually. I bumped into a kid when I was in a music shop and he said to me that he had my old guitar that I had sold 35 years ago.

I couldn’t believe him. But he described it to me and sure enough I recognised it. So, I have my Yamaha and now the Ibanez is returned to me.

It’s a crocked-up old guitar but it’s absolutely beautiful, well at least to me it is – I’m probably the only one who can play the old thing.

But it has somewhat made me perform again. Me and a few friends have done some shows around Ireland and released an album called ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ earlier this year.

We’d probably be described as creating a psychedelic folk sound with these eastern tunings. A lot of it would be inspired by my early days listening to groups like The Birds and the Zombies.

It’s definitely not the sound of the Roach Band. We’re pretty serious, but it’s fun, serious fun and it’s better than going out playing golf.

Trojan Eddie was released in cinemas 22 years ago now, can we expect any more screenplays coming soon?

Trojan Eddie was a beaut. We actually won the San Sebastián Film Festival with it. We had Richard Harris, Stephen Rea and a young Brendan Gleeson in there too – I thought it would have propelled us to stardom. It didn’t, but it is something that I am very proud of.

One of my short stories, The Eclipse, was made into a film as well and I would like to think that there is another screenplay in me.

I have to ask you about being the titular character in Man About Dog. What was the experience like working on that production?

Jesus, it’s the thing I get asked about the most and that’s just it, people always have to ask but I’m only in the thing for about a minute. I knew it was going to be great because it was so well written. Pearse Elliot did a fantastic job on it.

One of the things I remember about the dog, he was beautiful and in rehearsals the dog would jump up on me and put his paws into my chest every time.

So we went onto the set and were like ‘right go’ in front of the camera, but he just wouldn’t do it. I told them to hang on and brought him out to the field and he started doing it again. Brought him back, ‘right I have him’ I said. Started rolling again but no, just wouldn’t do it.

They had to leave it out of the film.

What can people expect to leave with after seeing the new play?

Well I don’t think that’s really for me to say, but I write about flawed people and I try to move the characters on into a different stage of their life. I’m not saying they’re sages or wild people, but the abiding thing that I go for is to have people moving on, so hopefully they can relate to it in that way.

‘A Love Like That’ by Billy Roche is running in The Civic Theatre from October 1-5 at 8pm with tickets available for €25/23 from www.civictheatre.ie or from The Civic’s Box-Office.

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