Extra star power

Stone in His Pockets (Critical Stages)

Gardens Theatre

March 31 – April 1

County Kerry is a quiet, close-knit Irish community where everyone is a cousin or sorts and everyone’s stories have already been heard the night before in the local pub. So when a Hollywood crew comes to town to make a film (fil-em in the local dialect), there is excitement as many locals are hired as extras. This sentiment shifts, however, as growing friction develops between the locals and the Hollywood visitors.

Extras Jake (Sean Hawkins), a local boy just returned from failing as an actor in America and Charlie (Grant Cartwright), a down-an-out stranger who aspires to be a playwright, bond in the spare time that extras have to pass waiting on set. Initially it is their friendship that is the focus of Maria Jones’ “Stones in His Pockets”, however the complex two-hander becomes so much more as the two actors bring 15 unique characters, both men and women, to life in a high-energy show that never loses a beat as it fills the stage with characters.

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With just the simplest of costume addition of headband or glasses, and accent alterations, Hawkins and Cartwright spin into rapid character changes that never compromise the narrative or leave the audience confused about who is who. Indeed, even in what is, in essence, a conversation with themselves, never does the action descend into farce. Memorable characterisations emerge from Hawkins as Mickey, an elderly villager whose claim to fame is being the last surviving extra in John Wayne’s “The Quiet Man” and Cartwright’s presentation of the pivotal Carolina Giovanni, the spoiled, superstar American actress who stars in the film and tries to seduce Jake, expertly achieved with just flip of a scarf and share of a sensuous voice.

The physicality required to quickly establish each character’s individual identity through just body language, facial expressions and varied voice brings much humour to the already witty script. In fact, it is the show’s greatest appeal as the pair never complete change costume and never leave the stage, but rather transform with confident fluidity that is beautifully blink-and-you’ll-miss-it in execution.

“Stones in His Pockets” is a cleverly crafted piece of theatre that maintains its engaging energy even as things become less light-hearted in Act Two as the story behind its initially-obscure title is revealed through a tragedy that affects the townsfolk and threatens to shut down the film’s production.

Complemented by a catchy soundtrack of the Cranberries and Shania Twain sort, this is a high energy show from start to finish, that crescendos in audience treat to an Irish jig on stage. There are times too when the fourth wall is broken in the most wonderful of ways as the performers blend into the audience and audience members, as extras, are addressed in how to react within certain scenes.

“Stones in His Pockets” is a good story told well, made even better by what audiences don’t see coming. And its exploration of the idea of a story in which extras are the main players and stars are the extras, is interesting in its consideration. The tragi-comedy represents an ideal balance of humour and emotion and, as such, is absolutely charming.

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