Stones In His Pockets is the loveable Irish comedy by writer Marie Jones. It took the UK by storm over a decade ago, winning countless awards – including an Olivier. After a successful stint in the West End, the play retired from the scene; that is, until now. Brought back to life by its original director, Ian McElhinney (Game of Thrones, The Fall, Ripper Street) and up-and-coming Irish heart throbs Stephen Jones and Conor Delaney, the play has been touring the UK since September.
Keeping it simple
I caught up with the show at The New Wimbledon Theatre last week, as it reaches the end of another successful tour. As the play was something of a comedy legend when first performed, it was nice to see such a varied crowd – from those who would have remembered it from its days in the West End, to groups of young theatregoers, branching out from mainstream musicals.
The plot is simple, the acting is sophisticated, but the delivery is downright outrageous. Delaney and Jones play over fifteen characters between them, switching effortlessly from a loveable local Irish extra, to Caroline Giovanni, the stereotypically yoga-practising, pouting American starlet. The two actors are alone on the stage for the whole performance, but are so adept in their story-telling skills that nobody else is needed.
The play follows two men, Charlie and Jake, from a rural Irish town as they star as extras in a big budget American movie that’s invaded their countryside. It’s a humorous look at what happens when cultures clash and young men with few prospects take their lives into their own hands for the first time. The comedy is undercut by the suicide of a young boy from the village – delightfully portrayed by Delaney in a denim jacket and a Jonas Brothers-esque fringe – and the very human message that we’re no better than anyone else, and should endeavor to be nicer to each other.
The comedy reigns supreme, however, and both Jones and Delaney deliver their sharp, witty lines with perfect timing and in those delicious Irish accents. Their physicality is excellent, making us believe that they are three different characters in the space of one line. A jacket, a stoop or a change of gait is all that’s needed for us to recognise that the cheeky Charlie is now the materialistic Caroline or the whimsical director, Clem. As well as multi-roling, both Jones and Delaney are also true to themselves – the characters of Jake and Charlie contrast well and carry the play through every scene. It’s easy to follow and the story is heartfelt, providing a laugh a minute from the audience.
This is no National Theatre production, but is a masterpiece in its own way, using comedy to show how a small community responds when challenged. It’s a technical exploration into people, as Delaney and Jones skilfully show us that we’re more complex than we think – there’s a little bit of the diva, the control-freak and the rural homemaker in each of us, all competing to get out. The plot is as simple as the set (mixed shoes and two packing cases are all that’s needed to bring the scenes to life), but plays out almost like a series of sketches, featuring beloved characters that we feel we’ve known all our lives. It’s relaxed and comfortable comedy with a deeper message that doesn’t pretend to want to change our morals. A Friday evening out at its best.