REVIEW: Two actors bring an Irish village to life at Horley’s Archway Theatre

Joe Booton (left) and David Lyon star in Stones In His Pockets. Picture by Kevin Day
Joe Booton (left) and David Lyon star in Stones In His Pockets. Picture by Kevin Day

Stones In His Pockets by Marie Jones, directed by David Gallichan, The Archway Theatre, Horley, March 28 to April 8

One thing I enjoy about theatre is its ability to entertain regardless of the budget.

All a production really needs is a great script, strong characters, an engaging story and performers with the talent to bring it all to life.

I’ve seen my fair share of shows where only a handful of actors – or even one solo performer – can create theatrical magic on a relatively empty stage.

Stones In His Pockets is one such show. It uses only two actors – Joe Booton and David Lyon – and a few basic props to tell a rather complex tale of a big film production in the Irish countryside.

Written in 1996 by Marie Jones, the play begins after a small village in County Kerry has been invaded by a Hollywood film crew.

Many locals accept jobs as extras, including Jake Quinn (Booton) and Charlie Conlon (Lyon), and the behind-the-scenes story of the film production unfolds through their eyes.

Throughout the show these two play dozens of characters, including the teenage dreamer Sean Harkin, the smarmy director Clem Curtis and the glamorous A-list film star Caroline Giovanni.

It’s a generally lighthearted story about two very different worlds colliding, but tragedy strikes at the end of the first act and the play turns into a bittersweet reflection on youthful aspirations, dreams and reality.

A play like this relies heavily on its performers and both Joe Booton and David Lyon do a great job.

They switch between wildly different characters quickly and effectively (and without noticeable effort), painting a rich portrait of a functioning town where the day-to-day routine has been temporarily turned on its head.

Booton really sinks his teeth into playing the cynical Jake Quinn, the mischievous old villager Mickey and a chipper young production assistant who is constantly trying to control extras with the word ‘settle’.

The smiley PA gets the biggest laughs of the show, especially when Booton takes a moment to improvise with the audience, but Jake Quinn is arguably Booton’s strongest character, and probably the most relatable and sympathetic. He appears relatively young but he’s getting older and going nowhere. He’s worn down by his lack of success and his initial happiness at being involved with the film starts to sour even before the story’s big tragedy as he looks around the set with a sense of envy and powerlessness.

Lyon does a wonderful job as the intelligent but rather stuck-up and greasy director Clem, presenting a man who masks his contempt for the lower orders with charm and kind words.

He’s also great as Giovanni, a starlet whose success seems to have more to do with her looks than her acting abilities. There’s some visual comedy, of course, in a heavyset older man playing a delicate female – particularly when she starts flirting with Jake – but she’s not a one-dimensional character. Lyon has clearly put effort into conveying her more human side – her frustration at not being able to master the Irish accent, her half-baked desire for a simpler life, and her well-meaning but clumsy attempts at being nice to the villagers.

Like Booton though, Lyon’s default character, Charlie Conlon, is his strongest. Like Jake, life has seriously tested Charlie, but unlike Jake, he clings to a fantasy of making his own movie, which leads to some amusing and moving moments.

I have some problems with this play but I simply cannot fault the acting, it’s strong from beginning to end.

Any criticism I have is mainly about the script itself.

It’s mostly great, with realistic characters and dialogue, but it arguably throws out too many ideas about aspiration and fame without offering much of a conclusion.

I don’t want to give too much away but we see the devastating effects of letting dreams and fantasy take over one’s life. However, the play also points out that rejecting every shred of idealism isn’t exactly good for people either.

The Hollywood film industry could be seen as a dangerous force that sells unattainable dreams to people at the bottom of the social hierarchy. But it could also be seen as simply a collection of decent but out-of-touch people trying to make entertainment under difficult circumstances.

It isn’t clear and I found this somewhat frustrating. But, I admit, others might prefer this murkiness as it could give them a lot to think about after the curtain comes down.

Speaking of which, the play seems to end a bit abruptly too.

That might just be because I wanted to watch more though.

After spending a couple of hours with these well-developed characters and the fascinating world that the two actors convey, it’s pretty tough to leave.

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