Thursday, 23 October 2014

Theatre Review: Stones in His Pockets at Bristol Hippodrome

This review was originally written for The Public Reviews

Stones in His Pockets has enjoyed phenomenal success since its Irish debut in 1996, with award-winning runs in the West End and on Broadway. Now this entertaining and bittersweet two-hander is returning to tour with its original director, Ian McElhinney, in charge.
A quiet backwater in Kerry has been taken over as a Hollywood film set and its villagers recruited as extras, feasting on the catering facilities and spending their £50 daily reward in the pub. This unfolding story is seen through the eyes of Jake and Charlie, two of the film’s hired crowd of the dispossessed. As its star, Caroline Giovanni , struggles with her atrocious Irish accent, she visits the pub to pick up some local direction and set in motion the most tragic chain of events.
Conor Delaney and Stephen Jones play not only Jake and Charlie but also all the other characters, from sultry Caroline to Mickey, the lifelong extra. Jake has recently returned home from New York and realises that Caroline is only interested in him for his Irish dialect; he shamelessly channels Seamus Heaney and is not unduly put out to be uncovered as a fraud. But young Sean is another matter; drug-dependent and disillusioned with life in rural Ireland, he’s more than ready to be seduced by Hollywood glamour and completely pulled apart by its rejection.
As circumstances change and the locals threaten to boycott filming, the mood darkens to one of resentment with the villagers beginning to reassert themselves against their tyrannical employers. Yet the thread of humour is never lost and unwanted flowers are transported from wedding to funeral, leaving a trail of hay fever in their wake.
Delaney and Jones have both appeared in Stones in His Pockets before, although never together until now. They are a superb combination, inhabiting the play’s fifteen roles with split-second timing and never better than in the dance which brings together so many of their creations. Their freedom of interpretation is enhanced by the minimal backdrop of clouds on a screen, a traditional Irish soundscape and a couple of boxes which they manoeuvre around the stage.
For all its heritage and skill, the ending of this play feels a little too neatly wrapped up. There’s a sense of the space here being too big for the performance and a distance which would be have been naturally overcome in more intimate surroundings. Yet this is still an enjoyable exploration of the triumph of aspiration from the ashes of failure, in the virtuoso company of two fine actors and the world of characters they create.
Reviewed on 19th October 2014.
Stones in his Pockets is on tour in the UK until 18th November 2014, details are here

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