stones top

Conan Sweeny and Charlie De Bromhead as Charlie and Jake

Stones in his pocket

Coventry Belgrade B2


Marie Jones’s Stones in His Pockets began modestly, introduced by a modest Irish ensemble as part of the flourishing West Belfast Festival 20 years ago, then an unpretentious local tour, with no suggestion of the tremendous hit it was to become both in the West End and on Broadway.

I must admit, I couldn’t see clearly what gave it that inflated status as company after company took it up and cooed about it, even in this thoroughly agreeable touring version at the Belgrade, acted by an impish duo (Conan Sweeny and Charlie De Bromhead, a nice pair of over-the-water likely lads). But then I felt similarly about Art - and looks at the success of that.

Then I fell to thinking what Stones was famous for. The play has, suggests director John Terry, ‘A deep sense of the daft’. Well yes, that was very nicely caught. One of the pleasures and excitements is ‘To watch an actor (either of the two) leap from one character to the next.’ This is indeed one of the features, limited in Part I - where the chief bit of dexterity is watching know-it-all character Charlie doff his brogue and don the drawling persona of star American actress Caroline Giovanni. He’s clever, and arch, and the joke - the same character switch - repeated just possibly gets to weary.


There’s a sudden flurry of character swaps at the start of Part 2, and those really were entertaining, dazzling for an moment in their deftness and the admirably pert, cheeky way in which they effected each transition.

De Bromhead’s Jake is (mostly) the calm-spoken, tolerant one, catchy from the start as the Company Manager who tries to keep performers and crew up to the minute and ready for their takes. Sweeny’s Charlie is almost frenetically active, his excitable body language and rubbery neck, his endless nervy hopping from one spot to another, arrogant but entertaining, a sort of human jack-in-a-box, never letting a comment go without adding his tuppenny-worth.

This was enough to furnish endless entertainment, and they certainly do. There were some - I presume - Irish jokes I didn’t get, but which made half of the appreciative Coventry audience chortle violently, and just to hear their burr and patter was a treat in itself.

Dialect Coach Jacquie Crago had done her stuff with Charlie; perhaps a little less with Jake. Did director Terry succeed in getting the range of characters needed to make this a well-enough defined show? I’m not sure. Most of the time, we were left to engage with Charlie and Jake, these two and their antics, with no real pertinent, unmistakeable suggestion of the arrival, or evocation, of a new character. A greater flamboyance in the shifts of accent, more of an Olivier-like exaggeration in the introduction of a new part - all the more so if the transition is brief - seemed to be called for.

But one thing really did catch my imagination. What this able pair, and Jones’s script, seemed to give us was an updated Waiting for Godot. Taken on those terms, this twosome - with a hefty tranche of script each - really held us with their bizarre outbursts, their private mutterings and unpredictable changes of subject. One could love, cherish and admire them for that alone. To 02-03-16

Roderic Dunnett



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