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Stones in his Pockets

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Soon-to-be artistic director of the Tricycle Indhu Rubasingham has been tasked by Marie Jones with getting back to the essence of her runaway hit, Stones in his Pockets.

Jones clearly feels that, somewhere amid the raves, awards and world tours that followed its 1999 London premiere at the same venue, something of the soul of the piece got lost.

Watching this moving revival, one can see what she means. Rubasingham has successfully unearthed a rather different play to the one we were previously sold. The programme image neatly sums up the shift – gone is the comedy cow, in its place we have a simple clapperboard in clover.

Jones' premise, that a rural Irish community gets turned on its head by the arrival of a Hollywood film crew, has been echoed in no end of television series and movies since – Notting Hill, Calendar Girls, Extras and My Week With Marilyn to name a few.

But although it may now seem all too familiar and even rather innocent, it nevertheless still speaks of rural decline and the vagaries of celebrity culture with cut-throat acuity.

As local deadbeats-cum-film extras Charlie and Jake (and many other characters besides), Jamie Beamish and Owen McDonnell manage to put their own stamp on roles that were created so successfully by Conleth Hill and Sean Campion.

As showcases of acting talent go, it's a difficult two-hander to beat, and Beamish and McDonnell clearly enjoy themselves. Pompous producers, flaky film stars and ass-licking assistants are conjured up with flair, though never allowed to reach pantomimic levels (despite the season).

But what they evoke most strongly is the sense of pain that throbs through the Kerry community; when a drunken extra - the last survivor from John Wayne's The Quiet Man - is ushered from the set, his song of defiance lingers long. And the underpinning tragedy that lends the play its harrowing title is given full room to breathe, thanks largely to Beamish's ability to turn Charlie from simple stooge to heartbroken everyman.

It's always difficult to revisit recent successes, it can feel rather like stomping on sacred ground. But this production successfully makes the case that Stones in his Pockets is a modern classic, and it certainly seems fitting for the Tricycle to be restaging one of its biggest hits in the final season of Nicolas Kent's 28-year tenure.


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