Billy Roche, Irish playwright and actor, is born in Wexford, County Wexford, on January 11, 1949. He still lives in Wexford and most of his writings are based there.
Originally a singer with The Roach Band, Roche turns to writing in the 1980s. He has written a number of plays, including The Wexford Trilogy. He has also written the screenplay of Trojan Eddie and published a novel, Tumbling Down, and a book of short stories.
Roche is best known for the three full-length plays forming The Wexford Trilogy, all premiering at the Bush Theatre in London, and directed by Robin Lefevre:
• A Handful of Stars (1988): Set in the sleazy pool room of a Wexford snooker club. “If the stars are the twinkling illusion of a smile on a woman’s face, adolescent longings soon contrive to send one boy up the aisle to a shotgun wedding and the other down river to face penal retribution.” John Thaxter, Richmond & Twickenham Times, March 4, 1988.
• Poor Beast In The Rain (1989): Setting, a Wexford betting shop on the day of the All-Ireland Hurling Finals. “A former Wexford man rekindles lost dreams and forgotten heartaches. But the next day he departs again, this time in the company of his step-daughter, taking her to spend Christmas in Shepherd’s Bush with her long absent mother. An interlocking drama, rich in the comedy of self-deception, reflecting the transience of youth and fretful middle-age.” Ibid, November 17, 1989.
• Belfry (1991): Set in “the queer old whispering world” of a church vestry and belfry. “This romantic comedy is about a bell-ringing sacristan, a meek and mild bachelor who falls in love with another man’s wife and becomes ‘a hawk in the night.'” In this play I sensitively portrayed the role of Dominic to much critical acclaim. I was the talk of the town afterwards, so I was. Ibid, November 22, 1991.
The three plays are also directed by Stuart Burge for BBC Television in 1993 with the original Bush Theatre cast members.
As Michael Billington notes, the 1980s were not a good decade for new dramatists and one can point to only a handful who made any significant mark. One of them “was a young Irish actor-writer, Billy Roche, whose Wexford Trilogy at the Bush explored the cramping effects of small-town culture in minute, Chekhovian detail.”
Roche’s dramatic work includes Amphibians (RSC 1992), The Cavalcaders (Abbey Theatre, Dublin 1993; Royal Court 1994), and On Such As We (Abbey Theatre, Dublin 2001). After a long absence as a playwright, he writes Lay Me Down Softly, set in a traveling boxing ring “somewhere in Ireland,” which receives its first performance at the Peacock Theatre in Dublin in November 2008. Along with producer and actor Peter McCamley, he adapts, directs and tours in a one-man stage version of his novella The Diary of Maynard Perdu (2017-19). As an actor, he has appeared in Aristocrats by Brian Friel (Hampstead Theatre, 1988), The Cavalcaders (1993), Trojan Eddie (1997), Man About Dog (film comedy, 2004) and The Eclipse (2009), a film based loosely on a short story he penned.
Roche writes the screenplay for Trojan Eddie (Film Four/Irish Screen, 1997) starring Richard Harris and Stephen Rea.
Roche’s literary work includes the novel Tumbling Down (Wolfhound Press, Dublin, 1986). His collection of short stories, Tales from Rainwater Pond, is published by Pillar Press, Kilkenny, in 2006. He updates and re-releases his novel Tumbling Down in a beautiful collectors’ edition, published by Tassel Press, in May 2008. He writes the novella The Diary of Maynard Perdu (Lantern, Wexford, 2008).
In 2005, Roche handpicks students from all over Wexford for tutoring. Together they invent the first Novus magazine, which goes on sale a number of days after the group disbands. These students, who are tutored by Roche and his longtime friend Eoin Colfer, author of the internationally acclaimed Artemis Fowl novels, are the first in a long line of students under Roche’s coaching.
Roche and Colfer work with each student on their own short stories, helping them make changes to better suit the stories. Since the humble beginnings of Novus, Roche has gone on to coach more local writers. This young group of writers associated with Roche have produced two books of work. Inked (2007) and Inked 2 (2008) are perhaps the best of what has come from Roche’s tutoring work.
In 2007 Roche is elected a member of Aosdána.