'Stones in His Pockets' Review
Teddington Theatre Club’s latest production of Marie Jones’ ‘Stones in His Pockets’ zooms in on the commercialisation of a rural, Irish community and the proverbial herd’s struggle to be heard. (Cows prove to have unexpected significance in this play!)
Set in Co. Kerry in the ‘90s, ‘Stones in his Pockets’ tells the story of the intrusion of a Hollywood film crew on a close-knit town, filming a distorted perspective of their lives for an upcoming ‘feel-good’ film, ‘The Quiet Valley’, when the desire for ever-elusive wealth and fame suddenly leads to a local tragedy. Director Wesley Henderson Roe’s production seamlessly guides the audience between moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity and thoughtful silence, as Ian Kinane and Brendan Leddy successfully rise to the daunting task of acting the parts of fifteen different characters.
This tragicomedy rests on a foundation of dichotomies that mirror its genre: a blur of the tragic and comic. The central plotline of Jake and Charlie rests on the fragile balance of ‘twos’: autonomy and control, truth and falsity, capital and community, extras and stars, film and theatre. The audience itself rests on the premise of duality, assigned as ‘extras’ through amusing fourth-wall breaks (not limited to a particularly brutal ‘costume review’) but still comfortable in our role as audience, rather than actor. Written as a two-man handler, the use of opposing ideas is necessary to create stark contrast between characters. Kinane’s Aisling (clearly beloved by the audience) and Mickey clearly demonstrate the effective use of parallel: the disempowered, crippled old man ‘extra’ versus the female assistant director with one foot in the door because of her father. My favourite line encompasses one of these dichotomies: “… in other words, the stars become the extras and the extras become the stars”. Here, the play inverts the nature of typical ‘Hollywood-ified’ storytelling, giving voice to line-less extras, and presenting the stars, notably Caroline Giovanni (with Brendan Leddy portraying her dreadful Irish accent, taken to hilarious comic extreme) through the lens of these extras.
In contrast to Teddington Theatre Club’s filmed production of Caryl Churchill’s ‘Escaped Alone’, this play could not employ lighting and sound to the same extent due to its nature as live theatre – but it is no less impactful for it. Technical effects are, instead, only used to enhance a change of scene – for example, Leddy’s fabulous yoga as Caroline Giovanni is accompanied by a hazy, pink light covering the stage. Kinane and Leddy step up to the ambitious task of convincingly portraying their respective characters, providing a clear demonstration of their extensive vocal and behavioural range. An effective aspect of the differentiation of characters is the manipulation of the ‘black box’-esque style of the performance, the stage compartmentalised and various characters monopolising its different areas. For the most part, Jake and Charlie use centre stage, Clem downstage right, Fin and Sean downstage left as children, upstage centre as young adults – mirroring Sean’s wavering belief in the American Dream and his ‘retreat’ into himself, perhaps?
Kinane and Leddy’s personal enjoyment of the production is palpable. Having previously portrayed the same characters in the 2018 production of ‘Stones in His Pockets’, the enthusiastic pair provoke infectious laughter with their comfortable dynamic, and awe at their fluid character changes. ‘Fluid’ is perhaps the best word to describe how easily the actors take the audience between characters: smooth twirls and turns signify a character or scene change and are genuinely fascinating to watch. The obvious familiarity of the actors with their own roles and each other, adds to the intimacy of the production itself, reminiscent of the play’s setting: a small town with close-knit community bonds where everyone appears to be a ‘second cousin’ in some way or another. The audience is hopelessly drawn into this domesticity, and feels welcomed into the fold – emotionally adopted into the town as we are ‘employed’ as extras. We are united in appalment at the treatment of the locals, notably after Act One’s shocking cliff-hanger, when the tragic origin of the play’s morbid title is revealed.
One aspect of our growing empathy for the characters comes in the unsuspecting form of cows. Through the play, cows become a symbol of the lives and plight of the community. As the character Sean Harkin states: “Cows are the business… If I were a cow, I would feel very useful”. Cows are the past, present and future of Kerry and are amusingly ‘remarketed’ for the film, as indeed the town itself is. This is demonstrated through Simon’s one-sided conversation revealing Clem’s belief that the cows are “not Irish enough” and should be replaced by “black fluffy ones”. The extras are similarly treated as cattle, without autonomy and seemingly addressed as a herd. At the end of the play, when Jake and Charlie make plans for their own movie script and, as such, step into their roles as the proverbial ‘stars’, cows are their focal subject and thus become a symbol of their reclaimed control. Dissolving into the hilariously absurd end scene, the audience is udder-ly amused (forgive me!) by the unconventional cow motif.
Unsurprisingly as a tragicomedy, ‘Stones in His Pockets’ guides the audience through moments of sorrow and eruptions of giggles. It’s a credit to Teddington Theatre Club that two men, on a small stage, without props nor special effects, can entirely entertain a theatre audience for two hours. An incredible performance. I, for one, can’t wait for the next TTC production.