In this essay, I will be trying to evaluate the play “Stones in his pockets”. The Play itself is all based around a small Irish town, in which a Hollywood production comes to rest and the locals become not just the extras, but part of the film itself. The play being critically renowned for its unusual style of having two actors playing all of the characters throughout the entire play. The play itself was conceived as a very low-budget play for an Irish Theatre company. The use of only the two actor’s means that minimal people had to be employed to play the parts required.
The author – Marie Jones – has made the play well rounded, and ending itself with the main characters deciding to make a play themselves, where they tell the “truth” of what has just happened. The play started touring due to its large popularity, and has since gone on to win awards, and been moved to a more permanent home in the Duke of York’s theatre in London. During our workshop with the actors and director, we were shown two scenes from the play, where the actors were shown to change between characters and situations very rapidly.
The ways in which the actors were able to change character quickly were based around the more simple elements to do with characterisation. Factors like body language, tone of voice and facial expressions, however more subtle differences in technical areas like lighting, and at one point, sound was used to convey the change between one situation (and its set of characters), and another. Another of the workshop tasks being practically based showed us how the different methods of characterisation are used.
Where a character can walk on stage and change quickly from one character to another, using only the smallest amount of action, and changing characters seamlessly so that the audience is watching a smoothly running production. The performance itself was a much larger task of characterisation for the actors. They had to use a range of different dramatic skills to convey the different characters, but the techniques were mainly a change in their physical behaviour and their voices, which they changed to suit each character required.
Their techniques were effective and they worked well for switching characters quickly. One of the more obvious methods of showing the audience they were changing to another character, was where they changed into the Director and his assistant, and to perform the switch, they spun around, starting as the Extras, and when they finished the spin, they were the Director and assistant. This quite simply showed the audience that the actors were changing to different characters, as this spin could almost be seen as a physical break in character.
However, most of the time, the actors would just quickly snap between characters, with no form of announcement they were changing, meaning that they had to rely on physical appearance and their voices. Examples for this can be seen all throughout the play, but one of the most memorable in my opinion is where one of the Extras is reading poetry to the lead actress on the film, and between extracts from his memory, the characters switch back to the pair of extras.
This affect, if not helped with staging techniques, is helped greatly by the lighting used. In this scene, the lighting was a bright white light when they were the extras in the wardrobe department, and a soft red for when he was with the actress in the hotel room. Lighting was also used for setting scenes, like the church, where a cross of light was projected onto the wall, and dimmer lighting was used to create the effect of a dimly lit church. But the more effective uses of lighting were for changing between scenes.
Sometimes when the characters were playing similar parts (like in the “peat digging” scene), it was nessicery to have a very visible method for changing between characters. In this scene, sound was used when the Extras were acting for the peat digging, and then the sound and pale blue lighting were turned off and the actors changed character to the director and his assistant. The costume and props used were very effective, if minimal. The two actors wore the same clothes (with the exception of the pub scene where they wore separate jackets) throughout, but the characters wore the clothes in a different way.
For example, the lead actress would pull the jacket tight around her, and wrap it around, whereas the extras themselves would wear the clothes normally. This was effective, as the actors needed little help in the audience realising their characters, but the different use of the costumes they were wearing helped to keep the characters even more separate. During the production, they only props that were used were parts of the stage, and some of the shoes taken from the row at the back of the stage.
The only time that this was seen was when one of the Extras is sitting on the box with wheels, and he is being pushed around the stage by the other extra. The rest of the time, they simply mime the object they are supposedly holding. The set they used (being very minimalist) was used effectively, and seemed that they had all the set they needed. The pieces of set they had were simply a large box on wheels, two folding chairs, two directors chairs, and a smaller box that was used for a seat. These were used for the bar, the hotel bed, the wardrobe storage and even the coffin at the end.
The staging that was used revolved around as little use of the stage pieces as possible and therefore most of the acting happened right at the front of the stage in the centre. This gave the actors little boundaries for their performance, as they were not continually using bits of furniture, and it seemed that they had more leeway to concentrate on their characters, which are the backbone of the play. I particularly feel that the performance went unhindered by staging, yet there were one or two weaker scenes compared to the rest.
The end scene where they are speaking to the director of the current film seemed to drawn out, and unrealistic, and the actors it seemed had a hard time getting the characters to react to the situation well. Another scene like that would be the funeral scene, where they are sitting talking about Shaun, and then one has to move away due to the flowers. I felt that that scene could have been improved with perhaps a better dialogue, and that the actors were not to blame for the scene being weak as it was. But my favourite scene, which was acted very well, was the Peat digging scene, which is after Shaun has just died.
I feel that it worked so well because the character reactions seemed emotional, yet not overdone and that they seemed natural in this scene. I feel that this production was successful in the way it used the characters, the way it utilised staging and lighting, and was overall a success for the way it was produced. The play needed to change little and the way it was performed was enjoyable, yet you could still find a way to realise the real emotions of the characters. At times, it may have seemed to drag, but the acting more than made up for this.