THERE are some shows – musicals and plays – that stay in theatres for years and regularly tour to large audiences. Sometimes as a reviewer you see them first time around and sometimes, unaccountably, you keep missing them.
Sometimes, when you eventually catch up with them, you ask yourself, Why? (This applies, for example, at least for me, to the musical Blood Brothers. I honestly think the rarely performed play is better.)
But this week, finally, I caught up with Stones In His Pockets – more than 20 years after it first wowed audiences first in Belfast, and then in the West End and on Broadway. It made Conleth Hill’s name, and has won countless awards, in Ireland, the UK and the US.
It isn’t big and it isn’t showy, it’s just two men on a fairly bare stage playing more characters than you can count. But it is one of the most moving, funny and multi-layered plays I have seen in a long while.
The story, such as it is, focuses on two Irish men in a small town on the coast of County Kerry – Jake and Charlie. They are among the extras for a Hollywood epic, with the predictable poverty-stricken Irish peasants (the locally recruited extras), evictions, a brave hero and a glamorous heroine.
Just before the filming of the lavish finale wedding scene, news comes that a troubled teenager from the village has drowned, weighing his body down with stones in his pocket. The second half of the play explores how the tight-knit community reacts and the behaviour of the Hollywood incomers.
Owen Sharpe (Jake) and Kevin Trainor (Charlie) play every part, including the director, the glamorous Hollywood superstar, a coyly flirtatious continuity assistant, and an aged, bent-legged old-timer, who regularly reminds everyone that he is the last surviving extra from The Quiet Man (the John Ford movie, starring John Wayne, filmed in Co Mayo and Co Galway in 1952).
The multiple skills of the two actors are amazing – so many different characters, voices, accents, walks are created at lightning speed, with no more than a toss of the head or a swirling arm movement.
This new production, directed by Lindsay Posner, is co-produced by Theatre Royal Bath and the Rose Theatre – it’s a delightful triumph.It’s on until Saturday 16th March in Bath at the star of a national tour.
Pictured: Owen Sharpe and Kevin Trainor as Charlie and Jake on set, and in one of the films Technicolor© scenes. Photographs by Nobby Clark