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Theatre: Breaking silence on the homeless


Why do we go to the theatre? I go for several reasons. Primarily, I want to be entertained. I may want to be challenged with the hope of seeing a piece that is thought-provoking and a play that will affect me emotionally. I will hope for impressive performances, a great script with imaginative staging and tight direction.

Should the function of theatre also be to raise awareness of certain issues? A question I put this week to writer and performer Pat Kinevane, whose play Silent is back in the Peacock. Silent tells the story of homeless man Tino McGoldrig. He has lost it all, including his mind.

Pat, who has been acting for 20 years, strongly believes that theatre is the perfect platform with which to raise awareness of homelessness and mental health issues. Seven years ago he made the decision to go solo as an actor. He decided that he would never complain because it was his decision. He would do his best to enjoy every minute of it. He also wanted to see if he could make a difference.

"Even if one person feels less judged if they are depressed or if someone sees a homeless person after the show and they might have just a little bit more compassion . . . that to me is what theatre is about."

Pat began performing Silent in 2011 with Fishamble Theatre Company and it has been a huge hit. Audiences continue to flock to see the play in Europe, Australia and America.

Interestingly, it wasn't in Ireland but on his first trip to New York in 2008 that Kinevane was struck by the problem of homelessness. On his return he felt the need to say something about it and to challenge his own prejudices.

"I felt guilty and thought can I write about this? I'm not homeless. But I thought there is no typical homeless story, it can be as imaginative as possible."

Pat feels that he has learnt a lot about homelessness through this play as the Simon Community has taken part in post-show discussions. What is clear to him is that every homeless person has a different story. He was struck by the fact that some make it through and others are lost forever.

"Some people end up on the streets because of mental health problems and it gets worse, and some don't have a mental health problem but they develop one due to isolation and lack of esteem. It's a vicious circle, that's the part that really got me; I thought I have to say something about this."

Kinevane made use of the romantic world of Hollywood star Rudolph Valentino as he wanted to juxtapose the old glamour of Hollywood against life on the streets. He also found out that Valentino himself was homeless in his early years when he moved to New York and he lived for a few weeks in Central Park.

Pat has been performing solo for seven years now along with his other show Forgotten, which is very much a sister piece to Silent. As we finish chatting, I ask what life as an actor is like for him at the moment?

He replies: "I never thought I would say this but it is quite overwhelming. I'm so grateful. I'm physically healthy and strong. I can do my work, people are willing to take my work, I can look after my family and the rest is a bonus. Fishamble look after everything; I arrive and unpack the suitcase and off I go, so I feel blessed."

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Silent, written and performed by Pat Kinevane and directed by Jim Culleton, is running at The Peacock Theatre until December 7 presented by Fishamble Theatre Company. Monday–Saturday 8pm (no performances Sunday– Tuesday). Booking information at www.abbeytheatre.ie

Aedín Gormley presents Movies and Musicals (Sat 1-4pm) and Sunday Matinée (Sun 12-2pm) on RTÉ lyric fm.

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