BWW Review: STONES IN HIS POCKETS, Theatre Royal Brighton
There's always a buzz of excitement when a film crew come to your home town but is it always a positive impact on the community? Marie Jones' multi-award-winning comedy, Stones in His Pockets, is currently touring the UK and is making its stop in Brighton's Theatre Royal this week.
The play premiered in 1996 in Belfast and then to London's West End. It won the Irish Times Best Production award in 1999 as well as two Olivier Awards for Best New Comedy and Best Actor (Conleth Hill) in 2001.
Stones in His Pockets is a two-hander where Owen Sharpe and Kevin Trainor play Jake Quinn and Charlie Conlon, respectively, two residents of the Irish town of Kerry. Jake and Charlie, along with most of their contemporaries, are playing extras in a big Hollywood movie being filmed in their area.
Sharpe and Trainor don't just play extras, though. As the play progresses the duo flit between a plethora of characters, fifteen to be exact. From the divas on set to the locals in the pub, as they tell the story of a few days filming in their local area.
Highlights of Sharpe's performance include an uppity production assistant, a stoned teenager and frustrated local, Jake, who has just returned from a failed attempt to make a life in the US. One of his characters' ogre-like posture is questionable as to whether the character has a bad posture or a form of dwarfism.
Trainor's take on the big American star, Caroline, goes down particularly well. With just a flick of his hair, the audience knows who is stepping into the scene and giggle with expectancy. He also gives aspirational scriptwriter, Charlie, an endearing quality, particularly in moments when he shares of the difficulties he's been through.
Direction from Lindsay Posner ensures the more prominent personalities stand out, but the subtler more serious moments in the show are not rushed or belittled. Movement directed by Mike Ashcroft is used effectively to introduce most of the characters before they speak and makes full use of the grassy square during an amusingly shambolic wedding dance scene.
Accents from both sides of the Atlantic and Irish seas are employed to help distinguish characters. Dialects and mannerisms occasionally blur between some character transitions making it a tricky to identify who is who in the scene, but they certainly make a determined juggling act.
Peter McKintoch's set design is a simple platform of greenery with an ancient wall erected behind a large flight case. It gives an excellent impression of a location shoot in remotest Ireland, and the flight case serves as a useful place to store costumes and additional chairs etc. The minimal set allows you to focus on the characters.
The duo of actors look the part in stereotypical tweed as the villagers, and an effective switch to modern coats/jumpers lets the audience know when the pair are no longer on set. It was a wise decision only having these two costume changes to prevent the chaos of having a costume piece for every character.
Lighting design by Howard Harrison bathes the grass in warm sun-like light and is used to great effect when dramatic shades of red are used to dictate the moments when the camera is rolling. This is matched with music by Corin Buckeridge - although whether the music would realistically play during filming is another thing. The softer lilting arrangements heard elsewhere in the piece capture the essence of the Irish countryside.
Sound design by Paul Groothius is quick to adapt to the different voices used on stage but during a couple of scenes gives the bizarre impression that the pair of actors are in a cave rather than a changing room with excessive reverb.
The story follows the mundane nature of being a film extra, what happens when one of the big names takes an interest in you, and how a community bands together when tragedy strikes - which results in a rather abrupt end to Act I. The second Act deals with the aftermath as the film crew struggle to keep the locals on side and to be honest, could have probably ended a little sooner, not to give away spoilers of the ending.
Stones in His Pockets deals with some heavy subject matter but has warmth at the heart of it and will make you think twice about the glamour of Hollywood.
Photo credit: Nobby Clark