Friday, 30 July 2021

REVIEW: Stones in His Pockets at the Barn Theatre

Stones in his Pockets is a very well written play by Marie Jones and ran for several years in the West End from 2000 to 2003 to great acclaim and has now reached the 25th anniversary of its first production. It is a funny but moving story of a group of extras on a Hollywood film in rural County Kerry, but its unique trick is that all the characters are played by two male actors. This revival at the Barn Cirencester (which was streamed from a single camera capture for reviewers to watch) sticks with the original production styling although there were two notable updates as Extra Vision who drive Charlie out of business is updated to Amazon Prime and the extras day rate has increased from £40 to 100 Euros!

Its success depends on the two actors who play the storytellers Jake and Charlie and their effectiveness in creating the rest of the recurring characters with a minimum of costume changes and props. Director Matthew McElhinney (the son of the author & the original Director Ian) successfully ensures that the transitions between characters are slickly and effectively achieved. He creates a generally fast-paced show with the two young actors Shaun Blaney as Jake Quinn and Gerard McCabe as Charlie Conlon who meet on the set of a film. Charlie is “on the run from himself” following the collapse of his business and responding to an advert for Extras in return for great money and free grub! Jake is a local lad who has had a spell in America but returned because he was homesick.

The audience in the theatre are engaged from the start as the rest of the Extras on the production and are told to dirty up their hands and faces and occasionally characters break the fourth wall to address them. I am sure this adds to the audience experience but does not translate to the stream I was watching. Conlon plays the leading lady Caroline Giovanni, Director Clem and 1st AD Simon from the filmmakers. Blaney is the female 3rd AD Aisling. Together they amusingly recreate the sense of being on a set with the repeated calls for “turnover-speed-mark it- action and check the gate”. They are the commercially minded outsiders who are exploiting the local community.

The heart of the play is the feelings and relationships within that community when young Sean Harkin commits suicide in the local lake with “stones in his pockets” to the despair of his best friend Fin and the rebel-rousing seventy-year-old Mickey who is shocked to be asked to attend a wake without alcohol. We find ourselves sympathising with their plight, laughing at their observations, and reflecting on their broken dreams with flashbacks to their past. It is heartwarming and enjoyable with many well-executed scenes such as a Riverdance parody with brooms, the tension between the production team and the Extras onset and the incongruous meetings between Caroline and Jake in her hotel room and Winnebago.

The result belies the line in the play that you “don’t go to the movies to be depressed, that is what you go to the theatre for”. Not in this play, despite its themes of suicide, failed dreams and poverty it offers hope that you can find friendship and a way forward which is true to yourself. It's theatrical, engaging and fun and worth the trip to Cirencester to this lovely intimate venue (with a very good restaurant next door) to enjoy a return to live theatre.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

At Barn Theatre until 22nd August (viewed Online)
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