Writer: Marie Jones
Director: John Terry
Reviewer: May Mellstrom
Twenty years after its premiere Marie Jones’s hit tragicomedy Stones in His Pockets is revived by The Dukes in a co-production with The Theatre Chipping Norton before embarking on a national tour.
Set in rural County Kerry, Ireland during the economic boom of the 1990s the play follows Jake Quinn (Charlie De Bromhead) and Charlie Conlon (Conan Sweeny) who are working as extras on a big-budget Hollywood film that has taken over the town. The tragic death of one of the locals brings them into conflict with the film crew and inspires them to reclaim the real story of their community.
Much of Stones in His Pockets enduring appeal lies with the concept – two actors take on the formidable task of playing all the characters and switch age, gender and nationality at a bewildering speed. With a wave of the hand or slump of the shoulder, a new character is brought to life. De Bromhead and Sweeny both give committed performances with highlights including Sweeny’s glamourous American starlet Caroline Giovanni and De Bromhead’s seasoned extra Mickey.
Jake and Charlie are the heart and soul of the production throughout but the downside of rapid role changes is that some characters feel less defined, bordering on caricature and don’t leave much of an impression. It isn’t long before another comes along however and the skill shown by the performers is undeniably impressive.
There are great moments of physical comedy in the morphing between characters but there are further laughs to be had in Jones’s script, which highlights the differences between the authentic Irish community inhabited by Quinn and Conlon and the artificial, romanticised vision of Ireland proffered by Hollywood. Samantha Dowson’s set merges these two worlds, with a curved grass knoll dwarfed by lighting and sound equipment. among the humour, there is a darker undercurrent too; as the opportunities for the locals diminish there is the nagging sense that their dreams are as unrealistic as the film star Giovanni’s Irish accent.
The self-referential ending thus comes as a surprise, bordering on the idealistic ‘Hollywood-style’ conclusion it had earlier appeared to reject.
Stones in His Pockets succeeds or fails based upon the strength of the performers and sets them what appears to be an impossible task. Watching the performers prove it possible after all is a large part of what continues to delight audiences today and this production makes for a witty, enjoyable night.