Northern Ireland news

Review: Stones in his Pockets still on a roll

Gerard McCabe and Shaun Blaney in the 25th anniversary production of Stones in his Pockets which opened at the Lyric this week. Picture by Carrie Davenport.
Jane Hardy

REVIEW

Stones in his Pockets

Lyric Theatre

Until July 3

THERE was a moment in Marie Jones's seminal drama Stones in his Pockets, revived with gusto at the Lyric Theatre this week, when the American film director makes the observation: "We don't go to the cinema to get depressed. We have the theatre for that."

Interestingly, this tale of Hollywood's expropriation of a patch of green Ireland it wants to portray via sentimental stereotypes and the ensuing tragedy, isn't depressing.

Although the two extras, Charlie (Gerard McCabe) and Jake (Shaun Blaney), end with nothing much but their slightly ragged Hollywood dream, you sense they will survive.

They now want to portray a real Co Kerry, cows and all. Via impressive audio visuals, we saw their landscape cut with shots from the patronising movie being made, The Quiet Valley.

The two-hander has been updated, with droll references to racism after digs against the British (well, there are great comic stretches) and Macaulay Caulkin, while there's even a gag involving The Irish News.

The tone, before we learn young Sean Harkin has died with the eponymous stones in his pockets, is often very funny.

McCabe's delightful camp turn as Caroline Giovanni (braces down, serious wiggle) reduced the stalls to helpless laughter. But the comic richness means the news about the death of Jake's cousin possibly lost some of the tragedy.

Yet the plot within a plot remains forceful and deals with exploitation. Of a country, but also of a young Irishman with "good eyes" by the star.

The romantic scene where Jake pretends, predictably, to be an Irish poet and borrows from Heaney, which Giovanni recognises, was brilliantly done.

The revelation later that Ms Giovanni brushed off Jake's high cousin in the pub, then had him thrown out, was chilling. So the dream turns nightmare, yet the show must go on.

This is a political play, and the extras who rebel at the thought of missing Harkin's funeral to finish a scene represent everyone at the bottom of society.

We're all extras, in a sense, and that was cleverly underlined in how Matthew McElhinney directs his mother's play in this 25th anniversary production for Barn Theatre.

What's superb is the classy acting from Shaun Blaney and Gerard McCabe. They made us laugh, think, sense the pathos.

Their multi-roling was also outstanding, in particular Blaney's account of the relationship between the extra and his younger cousin who feels excluded from an imagined future.

Possibly the original production of Stones in his Pockets, which has travelled to Broadway and the West End, was starker in its portrayal of the abuse of power.

Yet we came away sensing a bit of hope and maybe, to use a choice Jones phrase, the denizens of this small town will one day be "farting through silk".

It ended with a galaxy of Northern Ireland's finest on screen, including Big Liam (Neeson) and Jimmy Nesbitt, Adrian Dunbar and Siobhan McSweeney.

Jane Hardy

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