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I’m ashamed to say that I am more than halfway through my time at Lancaster University, and this is the first time that I have had the pleasure of seeing a play at the Dukes theatre in town. However, I can now safely say that I am a well cultured, really interesting, charismatic kind of bloke. I can also say that you should most definitely visit our lovely little theatre during your time here at Lancaster. Moreover, should you get the chance, you should certainly watch Stones in His Pockets.
The Dukes is a small, intimate sort of place. A theatre that is almost completely 360 degrees in the round. I didn’t realise the impact that this would have upon the performance when I first arrived, but by the end of the show I can honestly say that the building itself had magnified the intensity of the performance, and had exerted such influence that it could be considered as the third actor. That’s right. The third actor. For there are only two in the whole play. What’s more, there are fifteen characters. Yup, fifteen characters and only two actors. I’d say one star of this review comes from the kahunas of the actors alone to take on a role such as this.
The premise of ‘Stones in his Pockets’ is a quiet, rural Irish village being disturbed and uprooted by the Hollywood machine coming to town, to discover the “real Ireland” as the programme puts it. The story is told through the eyes of the extras on set, the locals. ‘Charlie’ (Conan Sweeny) and ‘Jake’ (Charlie De Bromhead) are the main characters and prove quite the twosome. Charlie, on the surface of things, is quite the cheerful chappie who proves to be ever the optimist. Jake on the other hand, is a glass-half-empty sort of guy, never overly impressed by anything; even a stint in New York didn’t bowl him over. This sort of yin-yang relationship provides a nice core for this ambitious effort, and grounds it very well.
Away from the safety of this relationship however, is where we the play comes into full swing. The environment of the Dukes allows the audience to see Bromhead and Sweeny change from character to character in remarkable detail. This close examination adds a sort of tension to the performance, I was just waiting for characters to get mixed up, or for lines to be fumbled. Yet it all went down without a hitch, much to the credit of Bromhead and Sweeny. Director John Terry says of the two, “They hurl themselves from the cliff-edge of one character, re-arranging themselves in mid-air to land as another”. This analogy is more than accurate, the risks undertaken by the cast are admirable, and certainly provide an extra dimension to the show.
That said, it does take some getting used to. After all, it is a leap of faith to expect an audience to accept two actors setting the scene and acting everything out themselves. Though by the end this was not an issue at all. It is worth mentioning however, as this might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Another minor qualm that I had with the production was its billing as a comedy. Now, I won’t ruin or mention the specifics, but whilst there are many laughs, the sombre moments are extremely sombre. I would argue that these moments tip the balance somewhat, and move the show into the realm of drama more than comedy. Furthermore, the play addresses some serious social issues prevalent in its 1990’s Irish setting. Lack of opportunities, cabin fever and drugs all feature as agents of conflict within the story. To clear all of this up, I’m not saying these are necessarily bad things. Just unexpected. When these moments pop up, they did take me aback.
All in all though, Stone in his Pockets is a unique, gripping and highly professional production. The audience has the chance to bear witness to actors stretching their capabilities to the extreme, and in the intimate environment of the Dukes we here in Lancaster have the opportunity to put the actors under a magnifying glass. This drama, as I shall call it, provides an interesting clash of realities with Hollywood coming to rural Ireland. It copes with existing domestic issues in Ireland, as well as ones brought to its doorstep by the cameras very intelligently. Although it doesn’t manage to do so as a comedy. Yet the standout features of this production are the only people present on stage. This chameleonic thespianism is a charm to watch and adds an immediacy to the story. There are no frills or distractions here. Only raw talent and balls. The story isn’t too bad either.