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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Stones In His Pockets
New Ambassador's Theatre.    2000-2004

JULY 2003: This long-running two-man comedy offers lots of laughs and just enough underlying seriousness to keep it grounded, without spoiling the fun. Two actors - currently Rupert Degas and Hugh Lee - play fourteen characters between them in this satirical picture of an Irish village's encounter with a Hollywood film crew.

The central characters, Charlie and Jake, are locals hired as extras in a Ryan's Daughter-like Hollywood version of olde Ireland. We watch them lounge about waiting to do their bits in crowd scenes, and also see a dozen other figures through their eyes - the blokish assistant director, his simpering girl assistant, the glamorous leading actress, another local who takes pride in being the only surviving extra from John Ford's The Quiet Man, and others.

Enjoyable set pieces include the actress (pointedly given an Italian name) struggling with her Irish accent, the over-enthusiastic production assistant getting on her boss's nerves, the extras trying not to laugh during a dramatic film scene, and the two actors recreating a full-scale folk dance number obviously staged by a Hollywood choreographer who has seen Riverdance one time too many.

It must be said that all the secondary figures are presented as broad caricatures, and thus the laughs generated by the performers' instant switches back and forth are fairly easy ones at easy targets. But they are genuinely funny, and the general pleasure of the culture clashes and caricatures is infectious.

And then midway through, something very serious happens, which not only darkens the tone, making some of the ongoing laughter a little uneasy, but also darkens the two central characters as they become more aware of the gap between the film's fantasy Ireland and the one they inhabit.

Again, the new, more serious insights aren't terribly original or deep, but they play effectively against the farcical tone of the early scenes. The humour continues, but with a new edge and bite.

Those with long memories will recognise that the device of having two actors create a whole village is not entirely original with playwright Marie Jones - the Texas town in Greater Tuna twenty years ago is one antecedent - but by combining broad burlesque with a serious statement she moves the genre forward impressively.

Director Ian McElhinney set a tone of high spirits anchored in reality that has been sustained through several casts.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Stones In His Pockets - Ambassadors and Duke Of York's Theatres 2000-2004
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