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Stones in His Pockets
The Star
By Martin Vengadesan

Hollywood seems to love Ireland, doesn’t it? Just think of epics like Far and Away, Michael Collins and Angela’s Ashes, which were, among other things, vehicles for glamorous leading ladies Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman. While it seems that most Hollywood stars cannot escape the Irish movie, have you ever given a thought to the local community that depends on these rich outsiders for wealth and validation?

That’s a simplistic analysis, but in the bittersweet ride that is Stones In His Pockets, Irish playwright Marie Jones examines the trials and the tribulations of those extras whose lives are inextricably linked with Hollywood.

What makes the play all the more effective is that Jones chooses to have just two male actors perform a dozen roles. Frankly, the multi-dimensional performances from Sean Sloan and Kieran Lagan occasionally take one’s breath away, and raise the play to a level it probably would not have attained had the roles been filled more conventionally.

The real protagonists of Stones In His Pockets are extras Charlie Conlon (Sloan) and Jake Quinn (Lagan), both of whom undergo subtle transformations as the play evolves. I should warn viewers that the first 10 minutes are quite confusing, as the play kicks off with a series of spoof ads, including Hollywood-style voiceovers. Then what appears to be a pair of Irish layabouts (actually Charlie and Jake waiting outside a catering truck before a shoot in County Kerry, Ireland) takes centre stage.

Even without the thick Irish brogue, Jones’ plot takes a while to understand – one is drawn, gradually, into the whole shebang. Initially, the audience laughs because of the actors’ swearing. But the play eventually evolves into a work that is generally amusing, sometimes downright funny, vaguely drunken (if it can be described as such!) and, once in a while, desperately sad. In fact, it reaffirms the clichéd perception of the Irish psyche.

It’s hard to put a finger on who is the better actor. Lagan steals the show with his turns as Aisling the prissy assistant, John the ugly dialect coach, and gruff Mickey Riordan, the sole surviving extra from the John Wayne movie, The Quiet Man. But Sloan is always faultless, and occasionally brilliant, as he juggles brusque assistant director Simon, security man Jake, a pompous English overseer, and Hollywood starlet Caroline Giovanni.

As the play progresses, we see how Charlie and Jake find themselves trapped by their working-class background. The glitzy world of Hollywood, which Giovanni embodies, taunts them. When Giovanni takes a shine to Jake, it looks like the boys are in for some luck.

But their hopes are dashed pretty quickly. When another would-be extra takes his disappointment to extremes, Stones In His Pockets’ dark underbelly is revealed, and it’s all the more gripping with Jones’ peculiar brand of humour.

Without giving away too much, I’ll say my favourite bits include a Seamus Heaney poetry recital, old Mickey contemplating a funeral without a drink, and Giovanni’s elocution lessons.

Hugh Borthwick’s clever direction, and expert lighting and stage management (by Ee Chee Wei and Syed Zalihafe respectively) whisk the audience from a bar to a church, to hotel rooms and the great outdoors.

Kudos should also go to Irish Ambassador Daniel Mulhall, who helped bring Stones In His Pockets to Malaysia, partly to celebrate Ireland’s appointment as head of the European Union. Ultimately, it is the talented Marie Jones, and Sloan and Lagan, who most deserved the standing ovation at the end of the gala performance on April 21.