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Stones In His Pockets (Keswick)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Marie Jones’s multiple award-winning comedy takes us into the memories, dreams and desires of a huge range of characters - Hollywood glamour-puss, ageing teacher, teenage wild boy, ancient tale-teller who met John Wayne – in and around a film shoot on location in County Kerry. Stories are told, secrets are revealed, and lives are changed for better and for worse, in a play overflowing with wit, humour and pathos.

What makes this performance so extraordinary is that these characters, and many more, are played by just two actors. Jones, an actress herself, has written a thoughtful comedy which trusts the craft of theatre, and this production grabs the opportunity with both hands.

Actors Dennis Herdman and James Nickerson give us hilarious wordless routines, getting their teeth into bad ‘extras’ acting and Riverdance-ing with relish. But what will live in the memory longer are their beautifully played moments scaled to this venue’s intimacy: the farmer standing on the doorstep of his son’s wake, off to milk the cows, saying almost nothing, or the silent scene-changing postural shift from two bantering children into two adults thinking about how one of the kids committed suicide five years later. It is a measure of Herdman and Nickerson’s skill that these characters – who occupy only a minute or two of a two-hour performance – provide such affecting moments.

What really makes the production sing though, is the beautiful way the actors flow, vocally and physically, into and out of characters. Timing and pace are spot-on, and there is always something new about to take shape on the stage. Director Stefan Escreet, dialect Coach Charmian Hoare, and movement director Niamh Dowling should be congratulated on their part in the virtually perfect physical and vocal pitch of scenes and characters, but even more so for the gracefully intelligent transitions between them. 

Only a couple of moments jar; in a space where an eye movement can speak volumes, one or two of the characterisations slip into auto pilot at times, perhaps more noticeably because the play makes sceptical fun of (particularly 'Oirish') stereotypes.

Designer Imogen Cloët’s stage of bare boards and back wall dropped within a film studio nicely points up the play’s openness to the magic of ‘the boards’,  itself epitomised by the actors’ triumphant virtuoso curtain call in which we meet again all fifteen characters.

Stones In His Pockets is a poignant, and perfectly played comedy which will certainly leave you with a spring in your step.

- Stephen Longstaffe


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