I went to see Stones in His Pockets with the expectation of enjoying a night of slightly sentimental, charming Irish comedy without too much to say for itself. But I was disappointed. Stones in His Pockets, a two-hander written by Marie Jones and directed by John Halpin, is much more than your run-of-the-mill, blarney-heavy comedy. It’s a complex study of winners, losers and lost dreams all played out in paradise – at least that’s the way it looks on the surface.
Set in an anonymous postcard perfect village in County Kerry the play follows fifteen characters all involved in a Hollywood production that has invaded the area. Essentially it’s the tale of extras Jake Quinn (Michael Habib) and Charlie Conlan (Mitchell Butel). Realist Jake and optimist Charlie are just trying to keep their heads down and earn their forty quid a day but when Jake becomes involved with narcissistic movie star Caroline Giovanni things get complicated. All of a sudden real drama is unfolding around them – the kind where there’s no happy ending.
It’s a complex story and the melding of tragedy with comedy requires a steady hand. Director John Halpin handles the difficult material with dexterity, ever mindful that although superficially this may seem to be a simple tale it’s about so much more than film-set antics.
You have to hand it to actors Mitchell Butel and Michael Habib. Stones in His Pockets is hard work. Not only does the script call for Butel and Habib to juggle the nuances of fifteen very different characters between them, but also to master eight different accents.
With this kind of frenetically paced, character-driven production the success or failure of the show rests almost entirely upon the actors’ ability to create distinct personalities without revealing the scaffolding of their performances.
Butel and Habib might have broken a sweat under the bright lights of the Cremorne but their performances seemed effortless. Helpmann award winner Butel is a high energy performer and all his eight roles are marked out by a canny observational physicality. His rendition of hair-tossing Hollywood movie star Caroline Giovanni is deliciously over-the-top. As optimistic loser Charlie Conlon, a would-be-screenwriter with lots of ideas but no talent, he brings heart and moments of touching drama.
Praise must be reserved for dialect coach Helen Howard. She’s done a masterful job working with the actors to ensure differentiation between the multiple characters.
Design by Kieran Swann is suitably minimal (a chair and a projector screen) considering the proliferation of characters.
Stones in His Pocket is about the achingly wide gulf between the way things look and the way things really area. The search for authenticity is at the heart of its telling and it’s authenticity of performance and intention that really makes the QTC production work.
If you like your comedy blarney free check out Stones in His Pocket – you’ll get a whole lot more than you bargained for.
Queensland Theatre Company presents
Stones in His Pockets
by Marie Jones
Director Jon Halpin
Venue: Cremorne Theatre, QPAC
Dates: Tues - Sat 10 Nov – 13 Dec
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