Theatre Review: STONES IN HIS POCKETS – Barn Theatre, Cirencester

Gerard McCabe & Shaun Blaney in STONES IN HIS POCKETS. Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

Gerard McCabe & Shaun Blaney in STONES IN HIS POCKETS. Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

Capturing the magic of the original with the thrill of new stagecraft, Matthew McElhinney’s revival of Marie Jones’ STONES IN HIS POCKETS still leaves a lasting impression on the audience

3.5 out of 5 stars

The Barn Theatre in Cirencester kick start their 2021 reopening season with the 25th-anniversary production of Marie Jones’ Olivier award-winning tragicomedy STONES IN HIS POCKETS. 

Set in Ireland, STONES IN HIS POCKETS follows a small rural village turned upside down by the arrival of a Hollywood studio to film the latest historical blockbuster. Told through the eyes of local lads Charlie Conlon (Gerard McCabe) and Jake Quinn (Shaun Blaney), who are employed as extras, it soon becomes clear that Tinseltown’s romanticised dream of Ireland is a long way from reality.

Gerard McCabe & Shaun Blaney in STONES IN HIS POCKETS. Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

Gerard McCabe & Shaun Blaney in STONES IN HIS POCKETS. Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

It seems fitting that this 25th-anniversary production is directed by Matthew McElhinney, the son of the play’s writer and original director. Unlike previous productions, which focused on the more farcical, pantomime elements of the play, McElhinney reclaims the original story by allowing it to be told through the characters’ imaginations as they weave their own narrative.

To do this, McElhinney makes the most of upgrades in technology by combining audiovisual elements with live-action onstage. Benjamin Collins and Alex Tabrizi’s AV design sees a large video screen form the backdrop of Gregor Donnelly’s set. Together with Sam Rowcliffe-Tanner’s dark and brooding lighting, it evokes a sense of magical realism and allows for some creative scenes. It’s best put to use when the live-action performed on stage is replayed as the final cut, bringing the magic of Hollywood to life fo the audience. It serves as a distraction in other scenes, however, the moving elements in the background diverting our attention from the talented actors on stage.

The real magic, of course, remains with the cast. McCabe and Blaney both deliver compelling and enjoyable performances as the play’s only two actors. They switch between fifteen different characters with almost no costume changes, demonstrating their mastery for accents and their talent for precision comic timing. At times, the script calls for exaggerated mannerisms, which McCabe and Blaney deliver with gusto, but there are more than a few occasions where a stereotype is leaned on. The female characters, in particular, get a short shrift here.

Shaun Blaney in STONES IN HIS POCKETS. Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

Shaun Blaney in STONES IN HIS POCKETS. Photo Credit: Danny Kaan

Yet, behind the many laughs is an underlying theme which demonstrates just how callous and cold the all-singing, all-dancing American dream really is. The tone takes a dramatic turn in the second act when a local teenager commits suicide by drowning himself with stones in his pockets after he is humiliated by one of the film stars.

The plastic crew forbid the townsfolk extras from attending a funeral, and we begin to understand that this village is filled with broken dreams and people, whose once strong desires to make something of themselves, have fallen by the wayside. After this, not even Fleur Mellor’s energetic dance scene can lift the mood, and we’re never really sure if we should be laughing or crying.

That said, this is a first-class, witty revival with a gifted cast that still has the power to leave a lasting impression on the audience.

STONES IN HIS POCKETS runs at the Barn Theatre, Cirencester, until 22 August 2021.