Charlie Conlon (Joseph Begley) and Jake Quinn (Niall Bishop) are thirty-something, unemployed and live in a small Irish town in County Kerry where Hollywood has just landed to shoot a rural drama. Along with most other locals, they serve as extras for forty pounds a day. Charlie is the perpetual optimist, hoping for a career in the States and for his newly written script to be picked up by someone on the crew; Jake has just come back from attempting a silver screen career and is decidedly demoralised. When the star of the film, Caroline Giovanni, pretends to seduce him only to get her Irish accent right, Jake once again falls victim to Hollywood’s smoke and mirrors.
The comedy in Stones in his Pockets comes mainly from the fact that Begley and Bishop play all the characters and switch personas without costume changes, although David Rance and Jo Eggleton-Rance’s set design sees a promising row of all kinds of footwear along the back of the stage. They remain unused, however, and the actors play out the story in the simplest of surroundings, drawing even more attention to their ability to cover six characters each.
The lauded play, written by Marie Jones in 1996, has not been given much new currency or flair in Nick Hastings’s production for Infinite Space Theatre. It clearly banks on the fun that comes with men pretending to be women and doing different accents, but the two hours do not exactly fly by. The strength of the writing lies in the fact that at the centre there is Sean, a troubled druggie who is humiliated by Caroline and commits suicide (with “stones in his pockets”). The second act deals with the townspeople shaken by the news, while the film crew want to finish the movie as soon as possible. That conflict, in all its manifestations, paints a picture of cultural appropriation by a Hollywood that loves its version of Ireland, a backward but charming country (Caroline: “I’m third generation, you know, on my mother’s side”), while the locals are in turn blinded by the promise of splendour that the movies hold. It is all in the text, of course, but nothing is given particular emphasis and sometimes it feels this production should have sprung from a clearer decision as to what meanings there are to be teased from it.
By the end, when Charlie and Jake think of their own feature film (incorporating the story of Sean’s death and a Hollywood crew invading the Irish countryside, calling it Stones in his Pockets – see what Jones did there?), the attempt at earnestness is overthrown by the superficial rendition of what came before.
Stones In His Pockets is playing at The Gatehouse until 11 October. For more information and tickets, see the Upstairs at the Gatehouse website.