Stones in His Pockets
JOYCE MCMILLAN on STONES IN HIS POCKETS at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, for The Scotsman, 12.7.12
4 stars ****
MARIE JONES is one of the most commercially successful playwrights Ireland has ever produced. Yet it’s never wise to underestimate the sharp political intelligence and sense of purpose that underpins her work; and her colossal London and Broadway hit Stones In His Pockets, first seen in Northern Ireland in 1996, is no exception.
Created for a cast of just two actors, and revived in an engaging if slightly low-key summer production at the Tron, the play is an immensely ingenious miniature epic about a small village on the west coast of Ireland invaded by a Hollywood film crew. Switching by the second from character to character, the two actors play disgruntled local extras Jake and Charlie; and also several members of the film crew, other villagers, and the star of the movie, the lovely Caroline Giovanni.
The skill involved in this endless shifting of roles is entertaining in itself, and perfectly engineered by Jones, in a tour-de-force of theatrical construction. Yet it also emphasises her central point, which is to expose the huge and growing divergence of power and wealth, in western societes, that increasingly damages our common humanity; and is often bridged only by a hopeless yearning for fame and celebrity.
And it’s here that Andy Arnold’s production – featuring Keith Fleming as Jake, and Robbie Jack as Charlie - sometimes seems to lack political focus and clarity, as the actors tumble around on a hyper-realistic astroturf clifftop, rather than a simple studio-theatre floor. Yet if Fleming and Jack sometimes lack the dazzling precision and energy that won multiple awards for the show’s original cast, they still tell Jones’s increasingly tragic story with skill and feeling; as they speak up for ordinary folk everywhere, driven off the land, and left to fend for themselves in a labour market that often offers them little security, and no dignity at all.