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review of stones in his pockets

By Nikki Packham

I saw this play in London when it first opened and really enjoyed it. I remember rows and rows of shoes. Tonight at Bromley Little Theatre I saw rows of jackets and caps pinned to washing lines and they served the two actors playing multiple roles just as well as the shoes would have done.

We all know the Republic of Ireland has a thriving film industry and many of the most famous names in Hollywood have directed and acted in very successful films shot in this Emerald Isle; director John Houston and movie stars John Wayne and Maureen O’ Hara spring to mind. This is not surprising, as so many people fled to the United States during the potato famine.

The scene is set for a bunch of locals to act as extras in a big Hollywood production in a small town in County Kerry. Although there are only two of them on stage, this play is peopled with the whole town and the audience can feel it. Jake and Charlie are the only bodies in the Bar’s tiny acting area, but they show us – through their body language, different speech patterns and personality changes – some of the other extras, not to mention those responsible for shooting the film. We are treated to a whole gallery of fascinating characters.

Take a bow Gavin Dyer and Matthew Platt, who interact with each other beautifully and then, with a deft turn of their bodies, take off one jacket or cap, put on another and treat us to yet another wacky individual. It is this interplay that makes the play both hilarious and poignant. I particularly liked the use made of the two pillars, normally the bane of all Bar directors.

These two actors moved seamlessly from one character to another using the two pillars with brilliant effect. To see Matthew Platt swinging round a pillar, swiftly donning an earring and emerging fully formed as the female star of the film, was a sight to behold. The memory will stay with me for a long time. Similarly, when Gavin Dyer jumped on a box to become one of the film crew, there to gather the extras together and explain their next scene, his delivery of the word ‘settle’ was brilliant. These actors consistently delivered these people to us, so we quickly felt we had known them all our lives. Both actors used body language to differentiate between roles and I particularly enjoyed Gavin’s loudmouthed extra, bottom sticking out and head thrust forward. I also loved Mathew’s director in baseball cap, pleading with the extras to return from the funeral in order that they could shoot the next scene. This was the wedding scene where all the flowers had to be returned because one of the leads had hay fever. Oh, and at one point the producers asked for different cows, as those in the field didn’t look Irish enough.

There were plenty of sound cues in this play and they and the lighting cues were well executed by the SM/operator Megan McGery. The lighting designers Emma Christmas, Piers Newman and Megan McGery showed the actors to advantage and the various sound effects and music designed by Rob Widdicombe really did immerse you in each scene, such as the crowded pub. The costumes provided by the cast and the props sourced by the director completed the look and feel of the play.

My only criticism was of the music playing while the audience came in. I would have liked more of the music used during the performance – subliminal I know – but I think it helps to prepare the audience for what is to come. I did love the recorded message to “turn off your feckin’ phones”.

Piers Newman’s directorial debut at BLT was very successful. The use of the pillars was inspired and the boxes under the washing lines could be used by the actors for sitting and standing on so that the play was never static. And the whole acting area was used to great effect. Well done Piers.

Why the title ‘Stones in his Pockets’, you may ask, if you were unlucky enough to miss the play? The thread of sadness running through the comedy concerns the suicide of rejected extra Sean, whose head was filled with dreams of the movies, but who sadly couldn’t handle the drink and the drugs.

Thus the audience experienced the combination of laughter and tears, both embedded in the Irish DNA, and that’s no bad thing I’m thinking.