Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Unfortunately this production fails to live up to the award winning heights of its previous incarnation.
Stones In His Pockets, a comedy written by Marie Jones, is finishing up it's 14 week national tour at the Theatre Royal Brighton, 20 years after its Olivier award winning stint on Broadway and the West End.
In a small village in rural Ireland, Hollywood descends to make a historical blockbuster. Here we meet two extras: Charlie (Kevin Trainor) a hopeful actor with a
screenplay he wants to market to anyone and everyone that will listen and Jake (Owen Sharpe) a driven performer who's frustrated with the historical inaccuracy that the heedless Hollywood invasion of his culture is portraying. Sharpe and Trainor change roles at the drop of a hat, rapidly morphing from their main characters, Charlie and Jake, into a plethora of interesting and distinct parts. It's here, however, where problems begin to arise.
The salient issue of this performance, for me, is the character changes. Often-times throughout I find myself confused as to which actor is playing what character. Multiple techniques are employed to present the changing of roles on stage yet, among the many multitudes of devices used, very few feel like they actually work to a satisfactory standard; in fact most feel careless and lackadaisical. What I hoped for was a succinct style for these character changes to follow, something more than someone haphazardly spinning on the spot. Deft and concise transitions in character are so important in performances of this style; if the audience don't have to spend their time playing who's who after a sloppy transition, they can focus on and engage with what they're watching. This in turn makes the piece's purpose more accessible. A theatre company that successfully employs Brechtian styles of multi-roling in their shows, in a similar yet ultimately more effective style than this show, is The Sleeping Trees. Their incredibly simple technique of a verbal “Shoop” every time they change characters, ensures that the audience can follow who they are at any given time.
A lot of the comedy in this piece feels a little rushed. There are moments where the awkwardness in the room needs to be savoured by the actors for it to get the laugh that it
deserves. For example a particular moment where Trainor, playing a provocative American actress Caroline Giovanni, is flirting with Jake by making him a coffee. This could be excruciatingly hilarious but, because it is breezed over too quickly, the audience don't have time to stew in the awkward tension and the potential for this scene is left unrealised.
There are however, some moments of brilliance provided by Sharpe in many of his roles. His incredible characterisation is one of the only things that feels genuinely redeeming in this show. A moment where he plays a child and whimpers after being hit provides the only hearty laugh that I can find in this piece and his eccentric second AD, Ashley, commanding the extras around is a highlight.
Peter McKintosh's rural set combined with Howard Harrison's often understated lighting and Paul Groothuis' intelligent manipulation of sound make for some very interesting, clever and aesthetically pleasing scene designs; one of the best being their dilapidated changing room. The simplistic nature of what they do together expertly creates a world for the actors to be able to play in. It's a pity that the flawed direction isn't to the same standard. Unfortunately this production fails to live up to the award winning heights of its previous incarnation.
Stones In His Pockets is running at Theatre Royal Brighton until August 3rd
Tickets available here:
Review by Craig Unadkat
Photo by Nobby Clark