If aficionados in the Brighton and Hove theatre scene were to award an annual gong for the year’s best production, ‘Stones In His Pockets’ would surely be in the pack of frontrunners.
This play, written by Marie Jones in Belfast in the mid 1990s, retains its relevance and punch for today’s audience. The theme digs into the conflicts – and fraternisation – when two contrasting cultures bang into each other.
Hence, in one corner, we have an rural Irish community facing recession, poverty and decline while still sharing strong common traditions. In the other corner, there are the cute Hollywood darlings who’ve just landed with cameras, scripts and beauties all ready for some super filming.
The play starts with a couple of young men shifting from side to side, hands in pockets. Behind them is the stupendous eye-popping backdrop of the sea and mountains of County Kerry. But our characters, Charlie and Jake, are not talking about scenery. Selling second-hand videos in the shop has gone right out of fashion. Maybe they could get some cash as extras in the film?
Now we start rolling! Our two actors (Ben Hayward and Ciarán O’Connor) proceed to tell the tale by taking on 15 different roles throughout the play. They signal their change of character by altering their body stance, nodding their head, donning a cap, or assuming a different accent. One minute, they’re a poor farmer, the next minute a US film director, or a famous actress.
The production team had a lot on their hands with Harry Atkinson (director), Jasmin Panayi (choreography) and Claire Prater (stage manager) keeping the whole crazy performance on the road. There was never a missed cue.
But ‘Stones In His Pockets’ was a long way from being a simple romp around the stage. Initially, the local people are characterised as being awed by the darlings of Hollywood arriving in their village. Maybe you would get an invite to the star’s bedroom? Maybe there’s a bit of money to be had on the side? But then they start getting kicked out of their own pub, being patronised and ordered around by the director. “The cows in your field just don’t look right,” he says and “Continuity are saying ‘don’t forget your hat’.”
When tragedy strikes, the competing values between ‘the show must go on’ and ‘we bury our dead’ poses a cultural and humanitarian dilemma. It’s not just a film, it’s not an act, it’s deadly serious.
‘Stones’ was a sell-out show with an enthusiastic audience across an unusually wide age range from students to the elderly. Brighton Little Theatre, which dates from the 1940s, is tucked down an alley off Western Road. Note, the auditorium steps may appear steep if you have restricted mobility. But the staff make the theatre and cute bar as convivial and welcoming as your local.
Ring that gong! With plays like ‘Stones’ we’ll be coming back very soon!
Brighton Little Theatre, Tuesday 25th October 2022
Photos by Miles Davies