Praised now for a quarter of a century, from the West End to Broadway, Marie Jones’ Olivier-award winning and Tony nominated play Stones In His Pockets is presently celebrating its 25th anniversary at Cirencester’s Barn Theatre in style.
Following the arrival of a tone-deaf Hollywood film crew set to capture yet another historical drama against the dispossessed Irish countryside, extras Charlie and Jake must reckon with the social and cultural impediments to their silver-screen aspirations. The two must find common ground in a world and an industry that has driven them to opposite extremes of hardened cynicism and protective idealism.
Shaun Blaney and Gerard McCabe instinctively understand these philosophies as well as all other facets of their characters—of which there are many. They know precisely who is the dreamer and who is the realist, they know why Charlie and Jake have chosen or been coerced to view the world as such, and they know how it colours their relationship as individuals. Together they form a mighty and incredibly watchable duo, continually transforming into new and colourful characters—none of which disappoint.
Yet, despite a virtuous effort at reviving Jones’ celebrated play, McElhinney’s production ultimately deals in the same incohesive tonality. Loyalties still seem split between accentuating the story’s pantomimic and even slapstick elements and buttressing its attempted criticisms. This leaves the play’s intentions somewhat obscured, even as its performance delights.
While there is no questioning Shaun Blaney and Gerard McCabe’s talent and assiduity, doubt lingers in the desirability and effectiveness of the play’s revival. Efforts to modernise its minimal commentary on corporate neo-colonialism and community are overshadowed by the play’s detachment from more pressing modern criticisms. It seems that the world has moved beyond Jones’ narrow and at times soapy capacity for social criticism. Stones In His Pockets may now best be experienced as a product of its time, without being jetted into our more urgent and less critically cursory 21st century.
Where it can’t resolve the issues of its source material, however, McElhinney’s production glows in technique. From its mesmerising lighting design, to its relaxed and adaptable staging, the performance revels in its technical prowess, as does the audience. The stage seems set as much for the actors as it is for their audience, allowing Blaney and McCabe to comfortably and masterfully command the space in new ways with every character they embody.
Generally, Barn Theatre’s revival of Stones In His Pockets, may not effectively reimagine nor reinvent the original, but it heartily reclaims it nonetheless.
Stones In His Pockets is at The Barn Theatre until 22nd August 2021.