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Stones in his Pockets by Marie Jones at the Cheltenham Everyman

PUBLISHED: 16:32 22 March 2016 | UPDATED: 16:32 22 March 2016

Conan Sweeney and Charlie de Bromhead in Stones In His Pockets

Conan Sweeney and Charlie de Bromhead in Stones In His Pockets

Darren Andrews

If you’d wanted a winner during race week, you should have backed the Everyman, says Katie Jarvis

It’s race week, and there are Irish storming the streets of Cheltenham as we make our way to the theatre. Swaying on sidewalks; staggering in shop doorways; pitching in the Prom; spilling out of pubs like beer frothing from taps. Extras in a scene where horses race and jockeys lean, light in the saddle and fast on the gallops.

It’s race week, and there are Irish on the stage, too, in Cheltenham; at the Everyman Theatre. Two Irishmen, who swagger and simper and strut and sway, as if not two but crowds of Irish.

Clever. Clever stuff.

Clever, clever Charlie de Bromhead and Conan Sweeny, the actors two. And clever Marie Jones, who wrote this wonderful play – Stones in his Pockets – some 20 years ago.

So.

We’re in rural County Kerry, where the locals have taken 40-smackaroonies-a-day (a fortune!) jobs as extras, in a film peopled by £6-million-a-movie American stars. As he waits in the catering queue, film-extra Charlie can’t even get himself an extra piece of lemon meringue pie from caterers seemingly trained by the RUC. Life is hard, he moans to fellow extra, Jake, when the wide, wide world is more convinced by a Hollywood-Irish accent than an Irish one.

And then the fun begins. Because Charlie – swaggering, hard-up, gin-loving Charlie – suddenly simpers and smoulders: “I’m third generation on my mother’s side. I do get a real sense of belonging here,” he sashays. “You people are so simple, uncomplicated, contented!”

And ha! You begin to realise you’re now looking not at Charlie but at Caroline Giovanni, Hollywood actress; star of the film in which Charlie and Jake are mere extras. Caroline, who begins flirting with handsome Jake: “Would you like to go back to the hotel for a drink?” she smoulders.

“I don’t think I’m allowed!” Jake panics, before calming enough to recite her some deep, deep verse he’s written. It’s not been published, of course, because that “cheapens your poetry”. And it works. It works right up until the moment he recites it to her, and she recognises it as Seamus Heaney.

But, don’t worry! Sex goddess Caroline isn’t too put off. She likes the locals. She has a habit of going native.

My gosh – this play is such fun. And my gosh – these two actors (Conan Sweeny in particular) work so hard, morphing and remorphing into 15 different characters as the action rushes at the speed of a Gold Cup winner. And, as the pace runs relentlessly on, you begin to recognise old friends not by a change in costume but by a certain turn of the head; a coquettish nuance; a lowered tone.

It’s a funny play: sometimes the humour is in verbal wit; sometimes it’s in the absurd portrayals. Sometimes it’s in Riverdance pastiche (the two shows came out contemporaneously); sometimes it’s in the simple mime of negotiating a crowded pew in a churchful of invisible people.

And it’s a sad play, too. The title, you realise, is the lead in the balloon. There are times actors have to cheer when they just don’t feel like cheering.

If you missed this at Cheltenham, you can catch it at The Theatre, Chipping Norton from April 5-16. And, do. Because, at the end of the day, the Irish who sashayed in and out of the Cheltenham pubs (even those who backed a first-past-the-post race spectacular) missed a real winner on stage. Stoned in the streets? Give me Stones in his Pockets anytime.

Stones in his Pockets by Marie Jones at the Cheltenham Everyman, March 17-19, 7-10 Regent St, Cheltenham GL50 1HQ, 01242 572573; www.everymantheatre.org.uk

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