Stones in his Pockets, written in 1996 by Marie Jones, tells the story of how life in a rural Irish community is disrupted by the invasion of a huge film production crew, as experienced by two local men engaged as extras. It turns the lens back onto the film industry and takes a hard look at its effect on the aspirations of the current generation, with wry satirical depictions of a range of the industry's self-absorbed character types, and more sobering characterisations of the dispossession, poverty, dreams and hard realities of the life of the Irish countrymen.
This production opens with a beautifully constructed set, immediately evoking the magical atmosphere of the Emerald Isle: a ring of bright green grass like a faery circle, surrounded by a mushroom-like ring of huge diffusers and all the accoutrements of a film set; director's chair, ladders and leads, with the stage dominated by a huge screen at the back, often lit blue to suggest the sea and the sky behind, but also symbolically representing the screen's unrealistic domination of a young Irishman's dreams.
As an audience member, you have to keep your wits about you to keep up with the character changes in this demanding two-hander. Conan Sweeny and Charlie de Bromhead have 15 parts to play between them, sometimes having to jump from one to another every few seconds, giving the impression of a set crowded with bustling invisible characters. This is no mean feat. I have to admit that, especially at the outset, I couldn't always identify who was who: the two female characters and those with pronounced physical characteristics or American/English accents were clearly differentiated, but when there were so many Irish men with Irish accents it was, at least initially, harder to distinguish one from another.
We didn't have time to worry about this, however, as the story raced along and the writing was razor sharp. There was humorous banter with the extras' quick-witted repartee ("You've got sex on the brain." "It isn't the brain that's the problem."), lovely economy of expression ("All I could see was a big black hole of nothing and I wanted to jump right into it", "Imagination can be a damned curse in this country") and wonderful lines like: "People don't go to the movies to get depressed – that's what the theatre's for."
This play is beautifully constructed. Although it follows the classic recipe summarised by John Godber as engaging the audience with humour in the first act and "kicking them in the balls" in the second, it also neatly and ingeniously comes full circle so that - after all the depression - the play ends delightfully at its beginning. It left me wanting to see it all over again.