Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford, until 29 June 2019
Reviewed by Antonia Hebbert
A Hollywood crew is filming in the green and scenic southwest of Ireland. Townspeople have eagerly signed up as extras, and an interloper called Charlie is camping nearby to take advantage of free meals and £40 a day. He is quickly rumbled by born-and-bred local Jake, and the two strike up a sort of friendship. At first the extras are excited and dazzled, especially by the film’s star Caroline Giovanni. But then a drug-addled local teenager drowns himself (with stones in his pockets) after being humiliated by Caroline and the crew, and the townspeople begin to see how cynical and exploitative the Hollywood dream factory is.
The riveting thing about this play is that everybody is played by the same two actors. Owen Sharpe (Jake) and Kevin Trainor (Charlie) transform themselves in the blink of an eye into a dozen other people, from sleek director to harrassed film crew to film star Caroline (oozing touchy-feely sensitivity) to peppery old bloke whose claim to fame is that he is the last surviving extra from the filming of The Quiet Man – and the sad figure of the teenager Sean. It’s all done with voice and gesture rather than costume changes, and it’s very clever and entertaining.
This play premiered in Belfast in 1996, and toured to local community centres before finding West End and Broadway fame. The set (Peter McKintosh) looks like a small piece of Ireland – rough pasture, stone wall and a cloudy sky – with a big props trunk in view. It’s perhaps a little corny that Jake and Charlie end up devising a script about what we have just seen, but playwright Marie Jones is clearly writing from the heart as she shows us the romanticised Hollywood Ireland alongside the reality of broken dreams and stifled ambitions of people living there. You could see the play as a wider commentary on the way powerful organisations diminish people’s lives while promising to fulfill their dreams, in a surprisingly bitter undertow to this energetic and funny show.