Not A Game For Boys

Welsh theatre director Patsy Hughes says the play, about Belfast taxi drivers and ping-pong, is ‘all about men being men'

‘I’m a bit of a homeless person at the moment,’ theatre director Patsy Hughes says, sitting down on the pub seat. ‘I’m living out of a suitcase.’

Don’t feel too sorry for her though, it is her work that sends her all around the UK. After several years of living in Belfast Hughes moved to London two weeks ago.

Hughes is back in Belfast to direct a play for the c21 Theatre Comany as part of Féile an Phobail, Not a Game for Boys by Simon Block, about the cut-throat world of competitive ping-pong.

‘Essentially it’s a play about three taxi drivers who meet up once a week to play in a table tennis league,’ she explains. ‘And this is the match that if they don’t win they’re going to be relegated to division two. So the stakes are high.’

It is a bit difficult to get excited about ping-pong, even high-stakes ping-pong, but Hughes explains that there is more to the story than that. ‘It’s male bravado taken to the extreme,’ she says, ‘but the play is really about looking at the characters' insecurities as men.’

In a way Not A Game For Boys is a morality play. When the youngest member of the team has a personal problem, the two older taxi drivers act as the angel and demon on his shoulders. He looks up to them both, but can only embrace one world-view.

With only three main characters Not A Game For Boys is a much smaller – ‘in the intimate sense’ – cast than Hughes is used to working with. Earlier in 2010 she was Rachel O’Riordan’s assistant director on Martin Lynch’s production of the Sam Thompson classic Over the Bridge.

‘Rachel has been like a mentor to me.’ Hughes pauses and rolls her eyes, correcting herself. ‘I mean, she has been a mentor to me over the last three years. I was her assistant director on Transparency and she asked me back for Over the Bridge, which was a massive show.’

Working with a smaller cast brings its own rewards though. Although Stephen Kelly and Chris Patrick-Simpson (star of the upcoming TV3 series The Guards) were cast before she came on board as director – with James Doran the final actor to be cast – Hughes is full of praise for all involved. ‘They know their craft,’ she says. ‘They’re great, fantastic guys and lovely to work with.’

Not a Game For Boys is being staged in the Emerald Roadhouse on the Finaghy Road. It might seem like a bit of a come down from the Waterfront, but Hughes can’t wait to have her vision performed in front  of a ‘real Belfast audience’. The smaller the venue, she explains, the more involved the audience gets.

Hughes cups a hand in front of her mouth, 'I love to hear that "What is he going to do next?” from the audience. It’s not like sitting in a theatre, it brings the play home.’

And bringing the play home is exactly what Hughes has done with Not a Game for Boys, changing the setting from London to Belfast. It didn’t need changed much. The themes of macho competition and underlying vulnerability are universal. Only the jokes needed changed.

With the characters being taxi-drivers it was inevitable a lot of the humour would revolve around the geography of London. That obviously wouldn’t work with a Belfast setting, but Hughes thinks the new Belfast-themed jokes work, maybe even better than the originals.

‘And,’ Hughes admits with a grin, ‘I did tell the actors I’d not mind if they changed yes to aye a couple of times.'

Not a Game For Boys is on from August 2-5 at 7.30pm in The Emerald Roadhouse.

Tammy Moore