How would you describe a show where two amateur actors take on 16 distinct roles, in a story which shifts between comedy and tragedy at the snap of a finger – ambitious perhaps? Or foolhardy?
As it turns out the correct answer is miraculous. The Teddington Theatre Club has put on a captivating and emotionally resonant production against the odds, the limitations of which are far outweighed by the impressive craft on display.
Stones in his Pockets was written in 1996 by Marie Jones and tells the story of Charlie and Jake, two film extras on the set of a Hollywood film production in a rural Irish town.
As these two friends navigate the world of movie stars and pretentious directors, the script explores ideas of community, exploitation and unfulfilled dreams, with the two actors taking on the additional roles of everyone else in the central characters’ orbit.
There’s another version of this show that really doesn’t work, as it fails to justify the decision to limit the cast this drastically.
But with a history of acclaimed actors taking on the parts, including Game of Thrones’ Conleth Hill and Killing Eve’s Owen McDonnell, it’s clear that the play’s success lies in its casting.
Brendan Leddy and Ian Kinane put in phenomenally entertaining and moving performances as Charlie and Jake, getting big laughs in early before pulling the rug from the audience before the interval.
Kinane gets the most to do with his rotating, alternate characters, whether he’s wonderfully chewing the scenery as the larger-than-life old-timer Mickey, or all too recognisable as the patronising toady, third assistant director Aisling.
But it’s Leddy who arguably carries the greatest dramatic heft, with a restrained performance as the optimistic Charlie who at every turn seems as though either a real rage or devastating melancholy is bubbling under his hopeful exterior.
It’s masterful work.
Perhaps most impressive is how quickly you stop noticing the character switches, as the actors sink into their various roles with aplomb.
The easy chemistry between the two is a joy to behold, and also unsurprising – they first played the parts in a sell-out 2018 production, the popularity of which has led to this re-staging.
Wesley Henderson Roe directed both runs and does sterling work here.
References to the audience as a group of Charlie and Jake’s fellow extras are a particularly involving touch.
However, the staging of the production, while lovely to look at and efficient in its evocation of Ireland, is less assured than the performances.
The 2018 production was held in the Noel Coward Studio, a more intimate space which one can’t help but feel must have been a better fit than the main Hampton Hill Theatre auditorium, which can feel outsized.
The decision to largely avoid using props, and instead to mime reading a script or putting on earrings, works in the context of a black box style, minimalist piece, but jars somewhat when Charlie or Jake take a swig from an imaginary pint glass, as they’re sat directly opposite a set of real pint glasses proudly on display.
Lighting effects are used sparingly but constructively, helping to distinguish character changes and flashbacks.
These are dramatically engaging and work as helpful cues but in truth this production could be held in an office, a classroom, a car park.
As long as the two actors are in view and doing their thing, the laughs would still come tumbling out and the emotion would still hit hard, particularly as Charlie’s arc comes to a head in a profoundly affecting speech.
You can tell how much fun Leddy and Kinane are having with these roles – and it’s infectious.
Stones in his Pockets is on at Hampton Hill Theatre until 20 November and tickets can be booked here.
Featured image credit: Sarah Carter