Writer: Marie Jones
Director: Lindsay Posner
Reviewer: Tom Ralphs
In a small Irish village, a Hollywood film is being made and the locals are all thrilled both at the chance of making it on to the big screen, even if it is only likely to be as one member of a very large crowd, and the earning £40 a day in a place where jobs are hard to come by. That’s pretty much the opening premise of Stones in his Pockets, but from this writer Marie Jones created a story that is far richer and goes far deeper and that went on to have West End and Broadway runs. Over twenty years on from when it was written, this new production confirms the charm and unexpected darkness of the play.
Owen Sharpe and Kevin Trainor play all the roles in the play. The main characters are Jake and Charlie, two of the extras. Charlie has seen his video store close down as a richer competitor has moved into town offering several copies of the same films so that more than one person in the village can see them at a time. This immediately sets the play in a bygone age, ahead of the arrival of DVDs let alone Amazon and Netflix, adding to the feeling of a village that has been overlooked by the modern age and is amazed at having the chance to rub shoulders with Hollywood.
Jake is more down to earth than Charlie, jaded after attempting to make a living in New York, he acts as a foil to his wider dreams of writing a successful film. However, it’s Jake rather than Charlie that the leading lady of the film takes an interest in. As the first act moves rapidly on, Sharpe and Trainor take on the roles of director, security, male and female actors, the oldest surviving extra from the John Wayne movie The Quiet Man and anything else needed to tell the story.
It’s funny, and certainly captures the reality of a typical movie location shooting with extras expecting a glamour that is sadly missing along with the stars of the film itself. However, it’s a little light on substance and the doubling up and more of the actors is a clever trick that draws attention away from the sketch show nature of much of the first act. It’s in the end of the act that the seeds of what follows are planted, as a villager excluded from being an extra and thrown out of the pub by the leading lady walks into the sea with stones in his pockets never to return.
The second act then takes a darker turn as the reasons for his suicide emerge along with the gaps between the Hollywood version of rural Ireland and the real thing. The act carefully combines more reflective material with humour and a comedic cynicism, delivering social commentary with wit and pathos throughout. The contrast with the first act gives it added poignancy and the show must go on mentality that continues to drive the film production raises the question of how the truth can be sacrificed to please movie makers and cinema goers.
With a total running time of less than ninety minutes over two acts, the underlying social and political message of play may have a greater impact if it was delivered without an interval, but overall this is a clever, amusing and quietly entertaining piece.
Runs until 6 April 2019 then touring | Image: Nobby Clark