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Brighton Year-Round 2022

Stones in His Pockets

Brighton Little Theatre

Genre: Comedic, Drama, Theatre

Venue: Brighton Little Theatre


Low Down

Directed by Harry Atkinson, Choreography Jasmin Panayi, Stage Manager Claire Prater, DSM Martyn Coates.

Set Design Construction and Painting Steven Adams and Tom Williams.

Lighting & Sound Design Beverley Grover, Lighting /Sound Operation Alison Atkinson.

Costumes Philip Castle and Harry Atkinson.

Photography Miles Davies. Video Trailer Joseph Bentley

With special thanks to Harvey’s of Hove

Till October 29th



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 (Ciaran O’Connor) and Charlie Conlon (Ben Hayward, making his debut here) 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. Brighton Little Theatre have scored another smash. With both delicacy and ferocious energy.

Hayward and O’Connor conjure their betters. Beyond his star-struck, wayward-dreaming Charlie, Hayward takes the director (very Eton-Johnson), Irish 1st assistant director Simon, 3rd assistant director to him Aisling (in particular, a tour-de-farce of Sloane privilege and connections) and star Caroline Giovanni. Even gently reminiscing Father Gerrard.

O’Connor’s Jake is the sensible one: the realist, but ultimately a dreamer too. His Mickey is a wild card – last extra from 1952’s The Quiet Man he’s pretty noisy. Others like the vulnerable teenager Sean who inadvertently gives the play’s title he hunches very differently. 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 (most recently touring to Brighton’s Theatre Royal in Lindsay Posner’s 2019 production), it’s directed here by Harry Atkinson with a set by Steven Adams and Tom Williams that emphasizes fairy-tale: a video panorama of bright and rain-scuddy Kerry sky with a few other scenes including a pub. It goes acid rainbow at one point in Beverley Grover’s lighting.

Before, cloddish grass and dry-stone wall. There’s an old crate that doubles as a table. A gallimaufry of subfusc costumes by Philip Castle and Atkinson with a rack off left sounds a witty Brechtian moment.

Beverley Grover’s sound explodes into backbeat jigs as the two actors dance – Jasmin Panayi’s choreography bursts out too, with the sheer energy and snap of the duo rounding off a joyous theatrical experience and a tremendously energised production. This sheer energy marks it out from the other production I saw, and shows us just why the young Conleth Hill gained an Olivier. Over the years this has roughly become the norm, as with Posner’s revival. The original 1996/99 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 Charlie Conlon, no-one cares) but an elegant solution’s again found by Caroline.

Everything’s told though through the refractive brilliance of multi-roling: Hayward and O’Connor 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?

Both actors are wonderful. O’Connor in particular edges his gruff character Jake into delicious goofiness, but his other personae are equally convincing: there’s an outré snap to O’Connor’s personification, and he’s given the edgy worryingly disturbed ones too. O’Connor’s sober mien gives him less wild range but more dark disturbance; more soul but more sobriety. O’Connor, sovereign in everything he’s touched recently, rounds Jake with laconic wit and timing.

Hayward making his debut here is quite simply sensational. Not just as the overwrought Charlie, but entitled Aisling, the BoJo-style British director, Simon the agitated Irish 1st Director, Finn the hunched grieving friend, Caroline the capricious star; each are instantly recognisable and Hayward’s characterisation phenomenal. Indeed the enormous clarity and differentiation as well as timing of both these actors is outstanding.

Hayward 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.)

This is a first-class, pointedly funny revival. 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 come round again, these points never date.  What better way to spend two hours in the city?