A week after Stones in His Pockets was forced to cancel its press performance after one of its stars, Hugh Lee, was taken ill (See News, 6 Nov 2006), the actor’s continuing ill health has prompted producers to post early closing notices for Marie Jones’ multi award-winning two-hander at the West End’s Duchess Theatre.

Stones in His Pockets was due to open on 6 November 2006 (previews from 1 November) and had been booking for a limited season to 3 March 2007. It will now close on 2 December 2006.

Lee - who has a gastric flu infection and has signed off work for three months under doctors’ advice - was originally taken ill on Friday 3 November 2006. With Lee laid low, his co-star Simon Delaney was also unable to appear as the piece, in which two actors play down-and-outs Jake Quinn (Lee) and Charlie Conlin (Delaney) as well as myriad other characters between them, is rehearsed and performed in tandem. Both Lee and Delaney have previously starred in Stones in His Pockets in the West End and on tour in Ireland.

Since the cancellation of the press night, the alternate cast of John Cronin and Conrad Kemp have been performing at the Duchess. However, according to a press release issued today, the situation is unsustainable: “It has not been possible to rehearse another actor as the dynamics of the piece need two people to perform together as a team in this complex play. There was no time even to find a leading actor from previous productions to rehearse. …The play cannot be presented without covers. It hasn’t been possible to find another alternate cast and to rehearse them. It is hoped to bring back Stones in His Pockets in a year’s time.”

Marie Jones’ bittersweet two-hander, which follows what happens when a Hollywood film crew moves in on a small Irish village, started life at Belfast's Lyric Theatre in April 1999 before steamrolling on to success in Dublin and Edinburgh. It was first seen in London at the Tricycle Theatre before transferring to the New Ambassadors Theatre in May 2000 and then on to the Duke of York's in August 2000. In July 2003, it moved back to the New Ambassadors where, after more extensions, it finally finished on 15 May 2004.

Stones in His Pockets’ many awards include the Whatsonstage.com, Olivier and Evening Standard awards for Best Comedy . Original cast member Conleth Hill (who co-starred with Sean Campion) was also named Best Actor in the Irish Times, Olivier and Whatsonstage.com Awards. In addition to extensive UK and international tours, Stones in His Pockets has been mounted on Broadway, been translated into 16 languages and been performed in more than 20 countries around the globe.

The current London production is directed by David Bownes, following the original direction of Ian McElhinney, and designed by Jack Kirwan and lighting by James C McFetridge. It’s produced by Paul Elliott and Pat Moylan.

Stones in His Pockets is the third play to announce its premature closure this week. It follows yesterday’s announcements that both Martin Sherman’s Bent, starring Alan Cumming, and Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke, starring Rosamund Pike, will close within the next month (See News, 13 Nov 2006).

- by Terri Paddock