Stones in his Pockets – by Marie Jones (Theatr Clwyd)

In a small rural town in County Kerry, Ireland, a Hollywood film crew descends and monopolises the town. The locals are thrilled, they might only be earning £40 a day as a film extra, but this place has now become the land of opportunity, dreams of becoming a famous actor could now become a reality.

The play centres around two characters, Charlie Conlon and Jake Quinn. Charlie had been running a small business renting our movies, but then a blockbuster chain moved in, with more choice and more copies of films. After going bankrupt, Charlie grabbed his tent and started wandering around Ireland and now here he is, an extra on an American film, with the opportunity of submitting a film script to someone big in Hollywood.

Jake has recently returned to Ireland following some time in New York and he is mesmerised by the star of the movie, Caroline Giovanni. Caroline swans in, the glamourous girl from Hollywood, and despite proclaiming that she wants to perfect the Irish account and give a realistic portrayal on screen, she and the rest of the American crew are only concerned about finishing the movie on time.

At the start, the community is excited to have such famous people in their midst, but soon the novelty starts to wear off and they start to feel used and abused. Jobs in this part of the world are scarce, so the crew know that £40 a day is a lot to some of the folk, so they can treat them anyway they want.
One evening in the local pub, a teenager, Sean Harkin, who is completely in awe of Caroline tries to speak with her. Caroline, who has gone the pub to “get an authentic feel for the locals” cannot help but be the Hollywood diva she is, makes a scene
and gets her minder to throw Sean out of the pub. Sean is both devasted and humiliated. This is a small community, and everyone would know that he, Sean Harkin, had been thrown out of the local boozer by Caroline Giovanni’s security man, Jock Campbell.

The first act of the play ends when Sean commits suicide by putting stones in his pockets to weigh him down when he walks into the local river. The second act continues as the locals try to come to terms with Sean’s death and unite for his funeral, but there is conflict with the film crew as they try to keep to their tight schedule. There isn’t enough time for the whole town to go to Sean’s funeral and his wake, and on no account should anyone be back on set having had a drink! The crew have no concern about the people they are employing as extra’s, and they have no feelings of remorse that they unwittingly contributed to this poor boy’s death.

Jake feels it is his fault that his cousin Sean committed suicide and reminisces about when they were children and their dreams and aspirations when they grew up. He felt he should have been there for Sean, but Charlie is able to console him and say it wasn’t his fault, but that there was one way they could remember and honour their friend…rewrite Charlies script and make the story about Sean instead. They present the story to the American director who dismisses it as not commercially viable…yet their story is the one we’ve just sat and watched!!

I must admit, that when I first started watching the play I was thoroughly confused. Here was a tale with a plethora of characters, and only two actors on stage. After about ten minutes though, I had settled into this unusual performance and I was mesmerised by the performance of two very talented actors, Owen Sharpe (Jake) and Kevin Trainor (Charlie). They take on the role of all of the characters in the story, and rather than be reliant on costume changes (there is the odd change of waistcoat for jumper as their shift as an extra ends) they just switch accents, facial movements and body mannerisms for each character. Once you knew the mannerisms associated with each character, as a viewer you were able to switch and follow the storyline with them. This was certainly a masterclass in character acting and an amazing show to see. It was full of typical Irish banter, so despite the dark nature of the storyline is was a humorous play and a great night out.

Whilst the play was a joyful celebration of Irish life, local communities, and good friendships, there was also the poignant reminders that the extras on films (who really are important in creating the right feel for a film) can be treated as second class citizens to the stars of the show. They work long, anti-social hours with very little to do, and can sit around all day without being required to do anything. It might sound great, but on a cold damp day I’m sure it’s far from ideal. Often, they are not even entitled to the on-location catering, they will have their own set up, and written into their contracts the lines that it is forbidden to speak to the stars. All of this, and yet many extras have been hurt on set, some even paying the ultimate sacrifice, and for what? They don’t even have their names listed on the end credits.

And then there is Sean Harkin. A young man who only wanted to say hello and ended up being so humiliated that he committed suicide. I remember being about the age of Sean when some filming took place in Frodsham and all the actors were using my school as dressing rooms etc. I didn’t know who Uma Thurman, Patrik Bergin, David Morrisey or Edward Fox were at the time. I did recognise Owen Teale though, he was on a TV advert at the time for Coffee mate, so I said hello to him when the cast were taking a break in the local pub. Fortunately he was very gracious with his time and kindly gave me his autograph…a minute of his time, no humiliation for me and I was as pleased as Punch! Makes me think how just 60 seconds of Caroline Giovanni’s work-time, and a small gesture of kindness, could have made Sean Harkin’s story so different.

Stones in his Pockets is still on tour and can be seen at the following venues:

Mon, 13th May 2019 to Sat, 18th May 2019
  Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne
Mon, 24th June 2019 to Sat, 29th June 2019
  Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Mon, 15th July 2019 to Sat, 20th July 2019
  Darlington Hippodrome (formerly Civic Theatre), Darlington
Mon, 22nd July 2019 to Sat, 27th July 2019
  Theatre Royal, Nottingham
Mon, 29th July 2019 to Sat, 3rd August 2019

  Theatre Royal, Brighton