By Arrangement with Paul Eliott, Adam Kenwright and Pat Moylan, Queensland Theatre Company presents STONES IN HIS POCKETS by Marie Jones.
This is an Irish play about an American film company making a film "in an unnamed scenic village in County Kerry, Ireland." We meet some of the film makers and some of the locals who are working on the film as extras etc.
Why anyone in Brisbane would care is beyond me. Why anyone other than perhaps the Irish would care is beyond me. In fact the audience I sat with last night seemed more than slightly bewildered by what they were watching for all of the first half and some of the second. Culturally we could have been told a story by Martians and got the same experience. Why this in the repertoire of the QTC season is beyond me. (The program notes about the Irish Cinema and the Australian Cinema seem to me fairly specious and ridiculous in the context of the evening, as interesting as they may be in themselves.) STONES IN HIS POCKETS, it must be declared, won the 2001 Olivier Award for Best Comedy, the 2000 Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy, and the 2000 Irish Times /ESB Best Production Award. Maybe you had to be there (in London and Ireland) and then (2000-2001) to get it. Because being in Brisbane on the 27th of November 2008 not many of us got it or cared too much.
Thank God for the actors. There are two members of cast playing some 15 characters between them. Mitchell Butel and Michael Habib are giving two outstanding performances. Their work is simply immaculate in the detail and finesse of swift characterisation that depends entirely on physical and vocal skills. Other than the removal or twisting of a cap on head or the sliding off of a jacket, there is no other aid, than their own actor's skill, to adapt and believe, at lightning speed. The sheer perfection of concentration by both individuals, and the sublime trust of their timing in the interplay with each other is worth the price of the ticket. (Well, almost...!) It is a pity the material is so uninteresting. We did ultimately respond to the work of the actors but it was late in the proceedings. The literal perspiration that the two players were swimming in by the end of the play would have been partly caused by the double duty of effort and energy that these two actors would have had to generate to keep the play afloat, as they were certainly not getting much help from us. In a Comedy, that is a frightening experience to be in, as an actor. In a "Best Comedy" it must be even more than worrying. These are very good performances. The directing (Jon Halpin) of the actors seems to be assured and seems to have had a close eye on the details.Well certainly on the actors. The Set design (Kieran Swann) which the director surely worked on and approved is another thing altogether. The details belong to another time of my theatre going. (When I was a student at University in the skills of our amateur fellow students.) The framed "film" screen that hangs at the back of the set is used to project backdrops of what I think were clouds etc. The selection are so mundane, and lack any real finesse, that one assumes the budget did not stretch far enough for the designer to achieve his vision. (One hopes.) This is certainly confirmed with the hollow sounding stage platform with very badly or amateurishly painted grass or moss with the "piece de shabiness" of the fake painted stage rocks at the cut out end of the ramp to facilitate exits and entrances. The rest of the space is the open black box of the theatre. The design support for this play is paltry and increases the difficulty for the actors to create a world to play in with the audience.
The Lighting (Ben Hughes) is similarly unsophisticated, often fading out the projections on the screen,and definitely giving no favours to the designer. The light exposes the ineptness.
The music composition (Brett Collery and assisted by Tony Brumpton) is certainly a grave disappointment after the good work they presented in the ANATOMY TITUS FALL OF ROME: A COMMENTARY. It lacks real perception and support.
All the artistic efforts, other than the actors and the director's contribution to their choices, is relatively poor. (The program note by Helen Howard, WHY USE ACCENTS? is worth perusing.)
The play is the major problem for me. I cannot understand its choice. (Except perhaps, budgetary ones. A cast of two is relatively inexpensive.) If you wanted to do an Irish play about film making in Ireland Martin McDonagh's THE CRIPPLE OF INNISHMAN may have been a better choice. Certainly it is funny. It also has a story that embraces what it is to be a human in a very expansive way. The play has substance as well as conceits.
After the recent collaboration of the Queensland Theatre Company with The Bell Shakespeare ANATOMY TITUS FALL OF ROME: A COMMENTARY. I was looking forward to something more than this less than modest effort.
Thank God, once more, for the actors and their tour de force against nearly all the other odds.
Playing now until 13 December. Book online or call 07 3840 7466.