I’ve been stalking this man’s repertoire for over five years. One act, one man, minimal set, props or costumes; there is nowhere to hide beyond the physicality of the performance of his bitter-sweet stories. I first saw ‘Silent’, [“the touching and challenging story of homeless McGoldrig, who once had splendid things. But he has lost it all – including his mind”], part one of his trilogy as a fundraiser for Mental Health Reform in the Unitarian Church on St. Stephen’s Green during a stormy Christmas week. As the howling wind rattled the windows, Kinevane gave us a real sense of what it might be like to sleep outdoors during an Irish winter.
Before by Pat Kinevane, Fishamble: The New Play Company
Having seen his trilogy: Silent, Forgotten and Underneath, we had been eagerly awaiting Kinevane’s latest episode from the marginalized so off we trotted to the Pavillion in Dún Laoghaire. I’ll admit I hadn’t read about the show in advance, such is my confidence in his work.
Not five minutes in, did our hero Pontias burst into song in homage to his parents, the doyens of their local Musical Society, and sister who were killed in a car crash coming home from the National finals. And so sets the tone for the intermittent musical numbers throughout the performance. There are few things in life I like less than musical theatre. It makes me tense, my chest seizes up and I find myself looking for an escape. Seated in row E or D and only about 5 places in, I’m seriously considering making a break for the door and thinking could I really ask that octogenarian with the blanket to get up again to let me out this time? My friend senses my ill-ease and whispers: ‘he’s taking the piss, he has changed the lyrics to match the absurdity’ and I know this but still my body cannot detect this subtlety. It’s fight or flight. I make myself stay until I’m drawn in by the story, it’s always the story that keeps me. There was nothing lacking in Kinevane’s voice or the choreography, only my own lack of appreciation for the art form.
Set in Cleary’s department store, an adult Pontias is up for the day to meet his estranged daughter. We get the story of a one-night stand with a D4 girl that resulted in her conception and the few years of pure joy as he describes his Saturdays with his daughter until it all goes terribly wrong like it always does in Kinnevane’s shows. Between the past and the present both in song and words, we’re introduced to a host of characters including his mother’s best friend the Pelican, so called from the size of her gob, who reared him and her brother who has a penchant for roadkill. We’re back to the present and he’s looking for a gift for his now adult daughter in, what we now know is, Cleary’s last day of trading before its abrupt closure by the vulture fund that bought it. I’m familiar with this storyline [having seen the documentary, watched the rightly-so disgruntled staff picket the premises over their appalling treatment and read much of the media coverage] but this plot twist has been lost on my theatre partner which I discovered in our postmortem. Perhaps, Kinnevane was trying too hard here to add another layer of social commentary but I felt it didn’t work.
Kinnevane’s characters are always on the fringe, their loneliness palpable and child-parent estrangement a recurring theme. Despite Pontias’ plight, you’ll laugh out loud with him as he takes you on an emotional roller-coaster meeting the colourful characters that brought some joy to his joyless life and the people that denied him his chance of happiness. There’s no happy Hollywood ending but that’s ok. Spend 80 minutes in the company of a Master at his craft but be prepared for a few adaptations from Cabaret, Chicago and maybe even the King and I. Having seen all four of his shows with each one receiving a standing ovation, and every time Kinnevane is as humbled as if it’s his first. If you haven’t come across the Kinnevane / Fishamble ‘Show in a Bag’ series, well you’re in for a treat.
Before is currently touring nationwide and his back catalog is never long off the circuit.
[Feature photo courtesy of Gerard Blanch].
Theatre was my first love. It all started with the One-Act and 3-Act AmDram festivals in our local theatre to get out of the house to smoke cigarettes on school nights. It wasn’t long before I had graduated onto the Class As in the Abbey, Peacock, Project, Tivoli and even more fringe events and locations. It’s physical. Being present with the cast, the crew, the soundscape of mutters, coughs, and gasps from the audience; the dust, the set, the murmur murmur hum before curtain. Pure energy. I can forgive anything — set, direction, costumes, props, performance — except bad writing.
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