Brighton Year-Round 2019
Directed by Lindsay Posner Stones in His Pockets features a set and subfusc costumes by Peer McKintosh that emphasizes fairy-tale. A square of cloddish grass and a cloud-scudded blue sky that goes rainbow at certain points in Howard Harrison’s lighting. Paul Groothus’ sound explodes into symphonic backbeat. Till August 3rd. Then touring.
Being pushed to the side of your own life, as an extra on a film about your own history isn’t unique. Nor that feeling you’re more unreal when real life goes on in a saccharine storyline studded with stars and shouty directors, in themselves unreal even off-set.
The unique angle of Marie Jones’ 1996 Stones in His Pockets is the wrong-way telescope of two extras Jake Quinn (Owen Sharpe) and Charlie Conlon (Kevin Trainor) leading a liminal existence, called on suddenly by one of the other 13 characters. Godot, sure, but Rosencrantz and Guildenstern too with all its collisions with Hamlet’s major and minor characters in-role.
Extras was a decade away and Jones’ play must have been one of its inspirations. Winning two Olivier awards and frequently revived, its slight twist of distinction has kept it alive for a quarter-century.
Sharpe and Trainor conjure their betters like the director, assistant director Simon and star Caroline Giovanni (all Conlon) and assistant to him Aisling and the last extra from 1952’s The Quiet Man – but also others like the vulnerable teenager Sean (Sharpe) who inadvertently gives the play’s title. It’s his story that forms the backbone of a plot that flashbacks to childhood. By its end you’re sure the people have been doubly expropriated in a film that romanticises the first famished exiles in the 19th century.
Several times revived, it’s directed here by Lindsay Posner with a set and subfusc costumes by Peter McKintosh that emphasizes fairy-tale: a square of cloddish grass and a cloud-scudded blue sky backdrop that goes rainbow at certain points in Howard Harrison’s lighting. There’s an old-fashioned travelling trunk that doubles as a table. Paul Groothus’ sound explodes into symphonic backbeat as the two actors dance. The original set was a blackbox and a row of boots. This production invokes hallucinated reality.
Stones is remarkable in how the ‘real’ extras and townsfolk begin a long processional into disenchantment – with the stars, directors, with movie-making. Their own reality reasserts itself, at least in part. At its core a tragedy proves the extras human and the director and crew plastic when they forbid the townsfolk extras to attend a funeral. Though this is resolved by the actor who feels a bit responsible – mostly to enhance her reputation – damage is done. There’s a delicious moment when one star demands a shipload of flowers be chucked because they suffer from hay-fever (as does Jake Quinn, no-one cares) but an elegant solution’s again found by Caroline.
Everything’s told though through the refractive brilliance of multi-roling: Sharpe and Trainor enjoy a memorable set of duets back-flipping from one character to another, usually two others at the same time. And they can dance! Whether it’s Caroline hitting on Jake, simply to gain a local dialect she never can master, or whether it’s the double-act of assistant directors Simon and Aisling shouting at extras, there’s always a centripetal pull to the two core actors. Jake’s been to the States, wants to ascend to star status himself. Charlie’s written a script, which is something. Eventually, with neat circularity, they hit upon the story unfolded here. The director though – what will he make of it?
Sharpe in particular edges his character Jake into delicious goofiness, but his other personae are equally convincing: there’s an outré snap to Sharpe’s personification, and he’s given the edgy worryingly disturbed ones too. Trainor enjoys many delectable moments, not least a brick shithouse Scottish gorilla, Caroline’s bodyguard who demands Jake entertain Caroline for 10 minutes as ordered. (Declaring he’s a poet Jake recites something to Caroline. That’s treasurable.) Trainor has more accents to portray and just occasionally you feel they’re not differentiated quite enough, or one’s carried over into another.
This is though a first-class, pointedly funny revival. It’s rare to see a play of such rare bittersweet clarity in late July. Beneath its slight lyric grace there’s an underlying toughness: our take on ambition and unreality, what the real is, and how we only think ourselves real magnified by the fake. However things have moved on and IRA jokes are coming round again, these points never date. What better way to spend 105 minutes in the city?