The original Tricycle/Dubblejoint production of Marie Jones’s comic two-hander was a huge hit a decade ago, winning two Oliviers and transferring to the Duke of York’s Theatre for a three-year stint. Which is pleasantly baffling: watching Indhu Rubasingham’s downbeat revival of this likeable but somewhat MOR comedy about two Irish extras working for a callous US film company, the idea of ‘Stones in His Pockets’ as a West End-straddling enormo smash seems utterly bizarre.
Jones’s digs at US cultural imperialism and mourning for the humbling of Ireland’s working classes remain effective. In the poverty-stricken Kerry countryside, upbeat, fragile Charlie (Jake Beamish) and brooding Jake (Owen McDonnell) are earning €80 a day lightly debasing themselves by playing subservient peasants in ‘The Quiet Valley’, a godawful Hollywood romance.
There is hilarity and then pathos in their entanglement with the film’s lead, Caroline Giovanni, who first attempts to seduce the overawed Jake, and is later discovered to have indirectly caused local fuck-up Sean to commit suicide after humiliating him in front of the town.
In general, Rubasingham’s minimal, earthy production doesn’t want for poignancy. But Jones’s cod-uplifting ending rings almost as false as that of ‘The Quiet Valley’.
The device of having Beamish and McConnell perform every single part makes for some good comedy – particularly in Beamish’s predatory, poised Caroline – but every character bar Charlie and Jake is played as a virtual stereotype, which dulls the satire.
Moreover, our view of America has darkened significantly since this play was written, and while pertinent, much of Jones’s humour feels overly gentle next to the likes of Richard Bean’s furious 2010 Irish-American satire ‘The Big Fella’. Nonetheless, a decent distraction from the January gloom.
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