Writer: Marie Jones
Director: John Terry
Designer: Samantha Dowson
Lighting: Alexandra Stafford
Reviewer: Ron Simpson
Though this touring production, co-produced by the Dukes Lancaster and The Theatre, Chipping Norton, diverts and entertains and provokes the occasional thought, it is difficult to understand why Marie Jones’ amusing and ingenious play became what the programme rightly calls “a phenomenal global success” 20 years ago.
The play’s strengths are a refreshingly oblique angle on an interesting question and an opportunity for two actors to deploy their skills in a wide-ranging and entertaining way. However, it lacks a clear focus, with an ending that only makes sense if you take the whole thing as a joke – and that rather contradicts the almost tragic weight that the second half aspires to at times.
Stones in his Pockets looks at the confrontation Bill Forsyth so wonderfully depicted in his film Local Hero: between the values of American big business and those of a rural community on the Celtic fringe. In this case, Ireland is booming in the 1990s and a film crew comes to County Kerry to make a romantic “Oirish” drama, complete with evictions, celebrations at the big house, fake accents and heart-warming ending.
Jones’ inspired idea is to present the situation through the eyes of the extras who peddle this false image of the ould sod in exchange for the comparative plenty of forty quid a day. The two she focuses on are Jake, newly returned to his native village after New York didn’t work out, and Charlie, rootless now after his television and video shop fell victim to those very forces of global capitalism – a well-contrasted pair, though their characters are not always as sharply defined as they might be.
After a largely comic first half, the play turns to the suicide of a young local man which points up the conflict between the two worlds. How far is the filming responsible for his suicide and which is more important, the funeral or filming the climactic scene?
In John Terry’s production the few set pieces are skilfully done: the inevitable Irish dance is worth waiting for and the contrasted “celebrating the young master’s wedding” scenes are a delight – the apathetic cheers of the extras and the swooning euphoria of the film folks showing how it should be done.
However, the play depends mainly on words – all delivered by Charlie De Bromhead (Jake) and Conan Sweeny (Charlie) in a huge range of characters, changing from one to another mid-conversation or mid-collision. De Bromhead and Sweeny carry it off with panache, but sometimes there is a danger that the changes become more interesting than the character. Inevitably characterisation is broad-brush, veering sometimes towards parody, with over-emphatic accents. De Bromhead’s characterisation of the only surviving extra from The Quiet Man is vivid and apposite and Sweeny makes an impact as the film’s glamorous female star.
One of the most pleasing features of this tour is that it takes in a number of rural venues as well as substantial theatres, and Samantha Dowson’s set seems splendidly adaptable: the old Ireland on a grassy bank and little else, the world of film in spotlight and screen – no doubt optional in village halls – changing colour with the drama. Eamonn O’Dwyer’s music, often quite unobtrusive, is a perfect fit.
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