STONES IN HIS POCKETS AT THE ARTS THEATRE
The turbo- power of theatre fuels this play. Two actors hold the audience’ attention for an entire evening and conjure a cast of characters who chat and argue – often both sides of an exchange executed by the same actor who swaps and chops through different accents. High- octane dialogue creates the action, the mystery of imagination breathes life into it.
It is Ireland, County Kerry in fact, when the curtain rises on a sunny landscape.
32 year old Charlie from The North – he says he can see Scotland from his home town - is attempting to coax an extra lemon meringue pie from the catering corps of a large production company. He is an Acting Extra and has travelled - complete with tent and the hidden script he hopes to somehow sell – to earn £40 a day as a minor role in the film newly arrived Americans are shooting in the Irish countryside. He fails with the pie scam. The management autocrat bully, Nick, takes a poor view of his cast of peasants and is hip to their tricks. Charlie meets Jake, (an astounding performance by Owen Sharpe) a local man. The Extra money is good, but Jake has a cynical view of the Yankee operation. They’re out to promote a view of Ireland very far from the saddened land he lives in. Even the breathless simpering star, super-sexy Caroline (one of the many creatures conjured into existence by the über-talented Ken Trainor as Charlie) yearns to re-visit the country of her great grandmother’s birth. The whole film project is an exploitative tacky fiction and only the colonializing impact of cash can keep the locals cooperative. But compliance doesn’t last. In these hopelessly unrealistic roles, events come to a tragic climax when a local 17 year old, buoyed by drugs, is chucked out of the local pub for attempting to talk to the leading lady. Humiliated, he drowns himself (the stones are in his pockets) when the misery of reality finally demolishes his dreams. Deference is disturbed and the American moguls and mutinous villagers are suddenly at loggerheads.
It is an excellent set up for conflict – and familiar. The massive 1940s box office hit ‘The Quiet Man’ makes an appearance when one old chap claims to be the last Extra to survive that movie shoot – he chatted to John Wayne himself who told him to get lost. And Ireland is the perfect place to re-play the ancient grievances of a proud people whose country has been snatched from under them by foreigners. When poor Sean is chucked out of his own pub and the old Quiet Man veteran ordered off what was once his farm, the message from playwright Marie Jones is loud and clear.
As two young theatregoers remarked on leaving last night
‘You do have to work hard at first to imagine these two men as all the characters, but once you have it’s very enjoyable’.
Their breakthrough moment was the epic Irish dancing sequence - a fun send up of Riverdance and all its progeny.
But what to make of this actor-light play? The production team have gone all-out to compensate for the missing personae, and the two actors put in a nigh-on superhuman performance as- well everyone else, but I would have enjoyed a full cast. It must be easy to tour, and handy to put up (it’s gone around the world since its inception twenty years ago) but on behalf of Equity and out of work thespians everywhere, let’s get back to the play rather than the pyrotechnics and produce works with work – and more enjoyment – for everyone.
Stones In His Pockets is at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until 1st June.