Writer: Marie Jones
Director: Andy Arnold
Reviewer: Edie R
Marie Jones’ “Stones In His Pockets”, a two-act two-hander about the impact of the movies on the life of an Irish rural community, features a whole film crew, cast and a village’s worth of extras. But at the Tron Theatre, Keith Fleming and Robbie Jack have got them all covered, madly rôle-swapping for almost two hours with an energy which nonetheless can’t quite disguise the drag in the play’s second act.
The action centres, à la Rosencrantz-and-Guildenstern, on two of the extras in a hideous (fictional) Hollywood blockbuster, “The Quiet Valley”. Jake (Keith Fleming) is a local man, returned from a goosechase after the American Dream, and bitterly used to directors descending on his scenic village and then disappearing as soon as their footage is “in the can”. Charlie (Robbie Jack) is an interloper from Ballycastle, who’s been drawn to the set by the promise of £40 a day and double helpings of lemon meringue pie, and left behind the ruins of his video shop and lovelife, both laid waste by a big movie rental store. The suicide of Jake’s young cousin, drug-addled Sean Harkin (also played by Keith Fleming), is the catalyst for a not-so-surprising exposé of the bastardliness of the Hollywood industry, as well as existential crises for the two main characters.
Put like this, the play sounds unremittingly depressing. In actual fact, it’s very funny, thanks in part to the energy and flexibility of the two actors, who switch through rôles with tireless aplomb. So Keith Fleming mutates from crotchety Jake, through wild-eyed Sean and movie-mad old soak Mickey, to the bright young thing Aisling, assistant to the assistant director by virtue of nepotism and much bum wiggling.
Robbie Jack, meanwhile, gets under his belt Sean’s simple friend Finn, unctuous English director Clem and his grudgingly Irish assistant Simon, and has great fun with his star turn as Miss Caroline Giovanni, the wonderfully awful heroine of “The Quiet Valley” whose attempts to master an Irish accent might impress Lina Lamont, and whose “habit of going ethnic” has Jake boggling. The first few transformations are confusing; but the actors do a sterling job of differentiating their rôles, even changing character between curtain calls! The audience is quickly acclimatised, and amused.
It’s the changing character of the play that lets the production down a bit. The first half is stellar. Marie Jones’ mockery of Hollywood style is infectiously comic, and the two actors have a wonderful time digging turf dispossessedly as their director urges them “Remember: you’re defeated, broken men!” (Which, of course, they are, not that their American visitors notice, or care.) The account of Sean’s suicide, drowning with his pockets full of stones, is movingly conveyed by Robbie Jack as Finn at the end of Act One; and if the play finished there, it would be hard to quarrel with its poised tragicomedy.
But the second act drags a bit. The deadlock between directors and extras over attending Sean’s funeral fizzles out, and the set-piece argument between Jake and Charlie is similarly disappointing: the two actors have built up so much friendly rapport over the first act that their debate is slack and untroubling, even when Charlie reveals a dark incident from his past. The end of the play feels painfully contrived: I almost choked from having so much metatext rammed down my throat! That said, two minutes of brilliantly disgruntled Irish dancing very nearly redeem the whole act.
“Stones In His Pockets” is an enjoyable play, with two wonderful versatile performers at its centre. Its problem is that it goes on too long, and become too conscious of its own artifices. Not unlike a Hollywood movie.