Stones in His Pockets: The Plight of the Hopeful Extras

Monday 23rd July 2019 at Nottingham Theatre Royal.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

Marie Jones’ award-winning play is a thoroughly entertaining two-hander with a dark twist. First impressions declare it to be a whacky comedy with a spirited cast performing a large variety of roles at speed. With the close of Act 1 however arrives a surprising shift in tone and events, leading to a second act which feels much more reflective than energetically comical. 

Jake (Owen Sharpe) and Charlie (Kevin Trainor) are extras on a big Hollywood movie filming against the beautiful backdrop of County Kerry. They each carry a torch for big futures in the industry, be it writing or acting and they’re eager to get a foot on the ladder – but is life ever really that kind to folk of obscure villages Hollywood pitches up in for a few short days or weeks?

Now although County Kerry is the backdrop of choice, the extras, who are made up of locals inextricably attached to the place, are simply collateral…in more ways than one. The Hollywood hounds tolerate rather than celebrate the locals while the stereotypically OTT American star fawns over them only in order to soak up what she can for her own gains. A death soon rocks both the extras and the production schedule – though not in equal measure; the Hollywood machine shows no mercy for those trampled beneath the weight of its unspoken empty promises while the locals can’t fathom the notion of a ‘dry funeral’ to send off a good ‘un gone too soon…

Sharpe is a wonder. Agile and impressively expressive, he has a Robin Williams kind of energy (I’m thinking of that particular appearance on the Graham Norton show which flabbergasted us and made us lovingly wonder if he had a plug…), shifting between manic and exaggerated characters with great gusto and impressive speed. Trainor masters the male playing flirty female gag and is very entertaining as the likeable calm counter-part to Sharpe’s more energised characters, pulling out the puppy dog eyes when the hopeful script writing doesn’t find instant success. Their combined pace is impressive above all else, but it does at times sacrifice details like sustaining accents and creating distinctly different characters within the tick of a clock…

Now while Sharpe and Trainor are a dynamic and accomplished pairing of actors, they are impressive to watch in terms of appreciating an actor’s craft as opposed to inspiring depth of attachment to their characters. Perhaps it’s the fleeting nature of each character’s turn in any given scene, or the surprise shift from clear-cut comedy fodder to something darker…or maybe it’s simply the fragmented nature of the play as a whole, but it’s difficult to connect with the more dramatic elements. For me, it’s more impressive to see the craft than the characters so there’s a disconnect somewhere despite the talent on display.

It’s also a nicely simple affair with this production: Peter McKintosh’s set and costume provide Irish greenery and ‘extras’ garb while Director Lindsay Posner keeps the focus entirely on our shapeshifting actors with the only shifts in landscape being the shifting physicalities to signal role changes. There are some great sequences in which our extras are seen filming snippets which offer a welcome sense of variety – I’d have liked to have seen more of that particular comedy source. 

This is a pacy production harbouring unexpected developments and while there’s a definite sense of muddle between comedy and existential opining borne of wholesome folk used and abused by the rich top dogs, the cracking cast hold their own and offer up some great entertainment.

Stones in His Pockets is presented by Theatre Royal Bath and Tose Theatre Kingston in association with the McCarter Theatre Center. It plays at Nottingham Theatre Royal until July 27th 2019 and you can find tickets here. 

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