Stones In His Pockets (2015)

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JOYCE MCMILLAN on STONES IN HIS POCKETS at the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh, for The Scotsman, 7.9.15.
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4 stars ****

THE USE AND OWNERSHIP of land is one of the topics of the hour, in Scotland this autumn: campaigns are afoot, and later this week, Dundee Rep Theatre opens its eagerly-awaited revival of John McGrath’s great 1973 cabaret-history of Highland land and resources, The Cheviot, The Stag, And The Black, Black Oil.

If you’re looking for a sadder, funnier and more subtly post-modern take on the same subject, though, you could do a lot worse than catch up with the current Mull Theatre touring production of Marie Jones’s smash-hit 1996 two-hander, lovingly directed by the theatre’s director, Alasdair McCrone, through the firestorm of popular protest that has broken out on Mull following the attempted dismissal, by the Comar arts organisation, of both McCrone and Gordon McLean, the force behind the exhibitions and music programme at An Tobar Gallery.

For there are certainly some familiar political resonances in Jones’s brilliantly-told story of a small rural town in the west of Ireland taken over, used, and abused by the management elite of the global movie industry, when a Hollywood cast and crew arrive in town to film a sentimental historical romance about a 19th century peasant revolt against poverty and evictions.  The story is told primarily through the eyes of Jake and Charlie, a pair of middle-aged local extras on the film who both find that life has left them with few other options; but one of the pure theatrical joys of this play lies in the ingenuity with which Jones has the same two actors also play a myriad of other parts, from the film’s gorgeous Hollywood star Caroline Giovanni, to young Sean, the troubled boy with drug  problems whose fate gives the story a profound edge of tragedy and anger.

In McCrone’s fine production, the parts of Jake and Charlie are played with real feeling and skill by McCrone himself, and Barrie Hunter.  And if it takes some time, on Alicia Hendricks’s slightly over-busy  set, to sort out Jones’s galaxy of supporting characters, the story still powers on in fine style, offering a vision not only of a society where the loss of a farming way of life causes profound despair, but of one in which the endless reflection and retelling of these stories, through media with a global reach, is itself fast becoming a factor in the game of power and powerlessness.

Kemnay Village Hall, 8 September; Webster Theatre, Arbroath, 9 September; and on tour in the Highlands and Islands until 24 September.

ENDS ENDS

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