STONES IN HIS POCKETS
Crescent Theatre, Birmingham, Sunday 1st April, 2018
Marie Jones’s comedy has, rightly, become a modern-day classic. It tells the story of the intrusion of a Hollywood film company into a rural Irish community. The filming brings employment prospects, however temporary, and many of the locals take advantage of the opportunity to become extras. We meet Charlie and Jake, two such extras, and through their eyes encounter a host of other characters: other extras, members of the film crew, even a Hollywood star. Jones populates her story with some deftly drawn personalities, but it falls to the cast of two, yes, just two, to bring them all to life.
For this production, we are in the safe hands of two of the Crescent’s most reliable and talented actors. James David Knapp is Charlie, a downtrodden fellow trying to outrun his depression and lack of prospects by palming off a screenplay he has written to anyone who will take it. Knapp is infinitely watchable and the split-second changes between characters hold no fear for him. His Charlie is affable, but his Caroline, the Hollywood diva, is a wonder to behold. Similarly, his British director, Clem, is also brilliantly portrayed.
John O’Neill is Jake, newly returned from the States and trying to restart his life – a kind of everyman figure. O’Neill is good in this part, to be sure, but he really takes off when he becomes production assistant Aisling, castigating the extras through her pink loudhailer. Also, as old-timer and movie veteran Mickey, he brings physicality to the part. In fact, both actors’ use of body language and mannerisms is spot on. The truth of the characters shines through in every detail.
The play demands a lot from its actors and these two deliver the goods without question. There is a sharpness and a precision to the delivery and the quick changes that adds to the humour of the situation. Director Andrew Brooks ensures the pace is maintained and the changes are smooth, to the extent that we can almost see the characters all at once. It’s hysterically funny but there is more to the play than laugh-out-loud comedy. Brooks delivers the pathos well too – when tragedy threatens to disrupt the filming, the resentment and indignation of the locals comes to the fore. A gasp went up from the woman beside me when the significance of the title became clear, in the show’s most poignant scene.
Knapp and O’Neill handle all the requirements of the script with aplomb. They also ride the waves of laughter they generate and handle impromptu audience input with style and with ease.
A thoroughly enjoyable production of a marvellous piece. I haven’t laughed so much on a Sunday afternoon for a long time!
Now, what would be really interesting would be a production performed by female actors…