Stones in His Pockets

  • Date:
    Monday, July 21, 2003
    Review by:
    Darren Dalglish

    The story is set in a small village in Co. Kerry, Ireland. A major Hollywood studio decides to film in the area and so many extras, mainly local people, are needed for the movie. The story centres on two of the extras, Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn, whose desires, hopes and fears are exposed.

    What makes this play very interesting is that it contains 15 characters that are played by only 2 actors, Conleth Hill and Sean Campion, and they do an incredible job!! At first, I found the character switches a little confusing, but as the play progressed I soon became used to the individual characters. So much so, that at times I completely forgot they were being played by the same person. At the end of the play it certainly felt like there had been 15 actors on stage, not just two. It was certainly ingenious of Maria Jones, to come up with such an idea. Jones has built on this idea to pen a terrific story that is both touching and funny as the people of a small Irish village reacts to Hollywood coming to their land. For some, it is a way to make a lot of money, for others it is an intrusion, a feeling of being 'used' .

    Both actors perform superbly, but Conleth Hill excels. In fact, he is brilliant! A very talented man in deed, watch out for his name in the future as I believe he has a big career a head of him. His performance as a top female Hollywood film star is fantastic and very very funny. The show has an alternate cast, featuring Sean Sloan and Louis Dempsey. I don't know what these two are like, and I certainly don't envy them having to take over from the principals.

    The show has received smashing reviews from the popular press when it opened at the New Ambassadors... SUSANNAH CLAPP for the OBSERVER says, "Anyone doubting that two-handers can show depth and dexterity should go to the New Ambassadors…..Marie Jones, .. has written a nimble examination of the exploitative, collusive relationship between Hollywood and rural Ireland." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, ". If there is a more cleverly constructed, enterprisingly acted play on offer in London right now, I cannot think of it." NICK CURTIS for THE EVENING STANDARD says the play is a "beautifully crafted tragicomedy". He goes on to say, "Jones has a sharp ear for a comic line and the ability to cut to the heart of a tragedy. Her script fits together like a Swiss watch." KATE BASSETT for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "The laughs come as Hill and Campion flick between dozens of roles."

    This fine production is not to be missed, particularly when Hill and Campion are playing the part.

    (Darren Dalglish)

    Next Review by Jonathan Richards
    April 2001
     

    Winner of the 2001 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Comedy, Marie Jones' new comedy is a magical piece, both in writing and in performance. In a show which is both beautifully acted, Jones uses her gifts in writing to amuse and touch the audience greatly creating one of the most satisfying evenings out at the theatre.

    Jones' play outlines the impact of the Hollywood film industry on a small Irish community seen from the view of two film extras. These extras interact with various members of the crew; director, assistant, actress (a particularly well played Caroline Giovanni) in what is a miracle of doubling.

    The play is fresh in concept and has something which we see all too little of in the West End: economy. The two actors, Louis Dempsey and Sean Sloan, play a range of different characters on a near-bare stage, male and female with superb characterisations, switching from Irish to English to American to man to woman instantaneously. They are not just superb in physical characterisation but also in accents - these are mastered perfectly so there in no confusion in terms of who is who and are often very funny. On occasions the play confuses its sentimentality with humour causing some inbalance which uncomfortable for the audience.

    Marie Jones shows the destruction of Hollywood through the destruction it causes the Irish community and and some serious questions are raised - particularly about the role that movies and imagination play in disillusionment and about Hollywood's responsibility to the communities it portrays.

    Thought-provoking, witty, moving and superbly directed and acted this play offers more than plenty to entertain and move an audience for 2 hours and well deserves the acclaim it has received.

    Jonathan Richards
    Email: ricjon2000@hotmail.com
     

    The following review is from the latest New Ambassador's run.

    ‘Stones in His Pockets’ by Marie Jones has transferred back to ‘The New Ambassadors Theatre’ where it began its phenomenal West End run in May 2000. I say phenomenal, because for a comedy/drama with only two actors it has proved to be an unexpected box office hit.

    The story concerns two Irishmen, Jake Quinn and Charlie Conlon who are working as extras in a movie being made by a Hollywood studio in County Kerry. They slowly tell the story of the effect this has upon the local community and especially upon the young man Sean Harkin and his family. After the unfortunate suicide of Sean Harkin the studio has to decide between either allowing the extras to attend the funeral or to continue shooting in order to avoid going over budget.

    It is this conflict of interests that reveals how the studio seems incapable of recognising the autonomy of the local community and rides roughshod over them by exploiting the glamour of fame and wealth. However, the make believe movies of Hollywood have little to do with the real-life drama of the poverty stricken villagers and it is their story that is told on stage.

    Last time I saw this play I was critical of the script, writing ‘Not enough is revealed about the life of the community outside of their roles as extras…” Whilst I still think this is a fair criticism, I can understand why the author Marie Jones, may have deliberately chosen not to reveal too much. The lack of background information keeps the attention firmly focused on the fears and aspirations of the two main characters, Jake and Charlie, both of whom are able to identify with the suicide of Sean Harkin, though for different reasons.

    The comedy in “Stones In His Pockets” is mainly found in the profusion of offbeat and outlandish characters: Caroline Giovanni, the glamorous movie star who has an eye for the ‘natives’; Old Mickey, the only surviving extra from “The Quiet Man” who almost dies of an heart attack at the thought of attending a funeral where no alcohol will be available; Simon the First Assistant Director whose authority is always being undermined, although unintentionally, by Aisling, his flirtatious Production Assistant.

    The actors Rupert Degas as ‘Charlie Conlon’ and Hugh Lee as ‘Jake Quinn’ play fourteen characters between them with exceptional finesse. Without aid of costumes or props they transform from one character to another with a simple change of voice, facial expression and posture. Not once did I become confused about which character was being portrayed and by the end of the evening it felt as if I had watched fourteen different actors, rather than just two actors playing fourteen different roles.

    The last time I saw this comedy I wrote that I “would find it hard to believe that the main cast could perform better than the two actors I saw on stage”. However, that was before I saw Rupert Degas and Jake Quinn -both actors excel at their art and make compulsive theatre.

    Alan Bird
     

    The following reviews are from the Duke of York's run.

    Review by Alan Bird
    26 Aug 02

    This evening I had the joy of watching two actors perform the amazing task of portraying 14 different characters on stage without the aid of props or costumes. One would expect this to be confusing for the audience, however this is not the case as each character is given their own unique personality and is clearly definable by voice and bodily posture. I suspect it is this unique theatrical experience of seeing two adroit actors delight in their art that explains the success of this remarkable show, as I did not rate the script by Marie Jones very highly.

    The story concerns two Irishmen, Jake Quinn and Charlie Conlon who are working as extras in a movie being made by a Hollywood studio in County Kerry. They slowly tell the story of the effect this has upon the local community and especially upon the young man Sean Harkin and his family. After the unfortunate suicide of Sean Harkin the studio has to decide between either allowing the extras to attend the funeral or to continue shooting in order to avoid going over budget.

    It is this conflict of interests that reveals how the studio seems incapable of recognising the autonomy of the local community and rides roughshod over them by exploiting the glamour of fame and wealth. However, the make believe movies of Hollywood have little to do with the real-life drama of the poverty stricken villagers and it is their story that is told on stage.

    Sadly, this is where the script fails the great directing of Ian McEihnney and acting of Martin Jenkins (Charlie Conlon) and Vincent Patrick (Jake Quinn). Not enough is revealed about the life of the community outside of their roles as extras within the movie, and so I was left perplexed about the suicide of Sean Harkin. It is not out of the ordinary for a young unemployed man on drugs who is trapped by economic circumstances within an opprobrious rural community to end his life, so why does Jake blame the studio?

    It is this lack of meaningful background information about the characters that prevents this good play from being a great one. The two actors who have to perform, a starlet, director, priest, security guard, etc have little biographical information to work with for each character and so are forced to caricature their portrayal of them with over exaggerated gestures. For example, it was only when I read the programme that I realised that Aisling, the production assistant, was meant to be a young woman and not a limp-wristed effeminate gay man!

    This is a play to see if you appreciate skilful actors being stretched to their limit on stage and so warm to their performance. However, even though it won Best Comedy at the Olivier Awards, it is not great comedy and certainly not a great story.

    The main cast of the show are Lloyd Hutchinson and Kieran Lagan with the alternative cast of Martin Jenkins and Vincent Patrick. I saw the play with the alternative cast and would find it hard to believe that the main cast could perform better than the two actors I saw on stage. So my advice would be to book the show and not worry about which cast you get to see on the day.

    Alan Bird
     

    Next Review by Darren Dalglish
    30th Aug 2000

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