Stones in His Pockets returns to the King’s Theatre Stage this week (Tuesday 2nd to Saturday 6th April) after a long gap (2005), and the reaction it is getting tonight is to say the least a mixed one. The audience in the theatre tonight was roughly split in two between older theatre goers and a large party of school pupils, and if this split is anything to go by then the reaction to this work is one that appears to be different between the generations.
Originally written in 1996 by Marie Jones, this story of a large film production company descending upon a small rural community is proof that out of all the varieties of performance theatre out there, comedy is the one that by virtue of our changing values and outlooks dates the quickest, and often for the worse. Stones in His Pockets clearly reflects in some areas humour that was acceptable 20 plus years ago, but which now, to many of us, is simply no longer funny in its content or dialogue. By contrast though there are lines here that are as sharply humorous as when they were written.
This work is a two person play and here Owen Sharpe and Kevin Trainor take on the personas of multiple characters – 15 in total, men and women, and although Owen and Kevin are very good at what they do, they are all too often having to deal with one dimensional stereotypes that leave little room for me as an observer to take any interest in. Some are so dated now that they are probably borderline acceptable to many, we really have moved on (I hope) in 20 years. The constant switching of characters with often only a few seconds in between them, a little turn here, or a visit to the big trunk dressing up box on stage becomes repetitive after a short while for me too; just as I am starting to maybe take an interest in a character they are swiftly gone, and often replaced by one unsympathetic to the story line of the last one. Still, I admire the performance skill of Owen and Kevin in not only remembering a whole script on stage with nowhere to hide, but also what characters the lines belong to.
This work is one that I find very odd, as underneath the surface humour there is a real story of rural communities losing not only their identities and their livelihoods, their way of life for generations, but all too often the very ground upon which they stand. In this respect, this work is as relevant now as ever. There is a darkness to the story beneath the film production glamour as a young, disillusioned local boy, Sean Harkin, addicted to drugs, takes his own life by filling his pockets with stones (Stones In His Pockets) and drowning himself in the local waters (shades of Virginia Woolf and her method of suicide here too). There is a pivotal event in the story that leads to Sean’s actions and it changes the tone of our story from there in.
Comedy, out of all the performance skills. seems to have the ability at its darkest to deal with many of the subjects that we find difficult to deal with, and good comedy actors always seem to have an innate ability to tap into that huge emotional darkness in their performances. For some reason though, this story rarely allows for that opportunity to be used to its full potential.
As I noted at the beginning of this review, there was a definite age split in the audience tonight, and the level of applause at the end of the show did so often seem related to a person’s age, and I would find it interesting to find out more about how our younger audience members reacted to some of the humour and subject matter of this show.
Review by Tom King