Chris Eldon Lee reviews “Stones in his Pockets”, which is at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme until Saturday 27th July.
There was a standing ovation at the end of last night’s pre-press performance of this crazy Irish play. The cast of just two thoroughly deserved the applause for their energy, exuberance and ebullience. But it hadn’t been entirely plain sailing.
It seemed to take the audience a surprisingly long time to unlock the concept that these two actors were switching between 15 roles without a moment’s pause; just a gesture, a turn on the heel or finger to the ear indicated a change of character and context. Strangely, the cast (perhaps aware they were heavily out numbered) seemed to be over-filling the space; pushing the play a little too hard. Either way, the laughter was sporadic.
What happened at the interval, I can’t say. It was almost as if Sir Alex Ferguson (now with time on his hands) had given the entire theatre a half-time team talk. For in the second half, the cast were scoring for fun.
Marie Jones’ play has risen from the community halls of Ireland to the bright lights of Broadway. It tells of the impact of sudden riches on poverty when a Hollywood film unit arrives in a small place in Kerry, looking for extras. The humour is loud (verging on vulgar) and witty and physically very inventive. We don’t actually see the cows, but apparently the film director wants them larger and the extras reckon the bovines have bigger parts than they have.
But she also takes time to delve into the very real sense of lost-ness that can be found in both the multi million-dollar film industry and penniless Ireland. If you’re a drug- addicted extra trying to raise the cash for your next hit, the phrase “fancy a line” has a dangerous double meaning. Ultimately, there’s only one reason why you would put stones in your pockets (unless you happen to be starting a rockery).
Colin Conner and Glen Wallace are terrific of course (there are so few of them they have to be) and I know it sounds Irish but a cast of ten could not have done it better.
Colin’s portrayal of old-timer Mickey is a well observed caricature of the kind of genuine Irishman you’d long to meet over a Guinness. And Glen’s hair twiddling portrayal of the American screen star Caroline Giovanni, struggling to reproduce the local accent, is delicately – even seductively – played.
The story is rooted in Hollywood’s long love affair with Irish locations for historical dramas. (Mickey claims to have been an extra on John Wayne’s “The Quiet Man” in 1952.) So it has an underlying authenticy that supports Marie’s Jones playful sub plots. Can Charlie con an extra slice of lemon meringue pie out of the catering cabin? Is Caroline really untouchable in her Winnebago? Meanwhile the clash of values that drives the play is neatly brought to a head when all the extras want to miss the last possible day of shooting to go to a village funeral.
Director Paul Warwick has all this played out on a floor cloth that resembles The Oval at the back end of the season and he provides a pretty hilarious River Dance finale…performed with just four legs…that had the audience on its feet too.
Photo by Andrew Billington
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