Tuesday 23 July 2019

A heartfelt plea for the outsider fathers

  • Before, Watergate, Kilkenny
  • Cassowary, Theatre Upstairs, Eden Quay, Dublin
Pat Kinevane in 'Before', which is in Kilkenny and about to tour
Pat Kinevane in 'Before', which is in Kilkenny and about to tour
Kevin C Olohan in 'Cassowary'

Emer O'Kelly

Delving into the dark side makes for a thoughtful night.

Outsiders and the dispossessed have proved a fruitful artistic ground for Pat Kinevane with his trilogy of one-man plays which have travelled the world over the past 10 years, garnering numerous awards including an Olivier, along the way.

Forgotten, Silent, and Underneath are not comfortable works: all three point a savagely accusing finger at society. Even more uncomfortably, Kinevane makes society personal in his work: we are not an amorphous mass, but a group of individuals. And it is individuals who are to blame as we step over bodies in the street, sometimes literally, regarding them as less than human, caring little if they are alive, close to death, or already dead. That the death is sometimes that of the spirit rather than the body is even more chilling as Kinevane represents it in both his acting and his writing. This is work that at times comes uncomfortably close to madness. (Literary historians might remember back to the furore and outrage caused by English philosopher Colin Wilson way back in the 1950s when he wrote The Outsider.)

And now, with Before Pat Kinevane and his director/collaborator Jim Culleton of Fishamble Theatre have turned their attention to another aspect of what many people would call societal cruelty: the plight of the alienated, single father denied access to his child. As Kinevane paints Pontius from Laois, he is already an oddity, never able quite to assimilate. So, when a wild night of unplanned riotous sex amid the beer barrels behind a Dublin club (enough to last him a lifetime, he thinks) results in his being told a year later that he has a daughter, a world of unimagined delight comes crashing in.

Felicity is the spoiled daughter of crass parents; so Pontius travels to Sutton outside Dublin every Saturday for four years to play with his little Aster in her grandparents' empty house. Until the day he surprises Felicity in flagrante.

A different world comes crashing in, and the ensuing violence results in his being barred from seeing Aster without her mother's express permission…which is withheld.

So we meet Pontius as he goes to meet Aster on her 21st birthday, she having made contact with him. He is prowling Clery's on O'Connell Street in Dublin to buy her a present, coincidentally on the last day of trading before the brutal shutdown of that store. And as he sings his songs, and tells his story against the background of the store announcements, the harsh realities of a world beyond Pontius's simple system of comprehension start to drum louder. A simple man has no place in our world: "You can put Chanel lipstick on a f*****g pig, but it's still a pig," as Pontius rages.

At times Before takes its surrealism too far wide of its mark, and its connections don't quite come off, but the play is still a raging plea to see the world in terms beyond black and white: love has many faces in Kinevane's mind.

The music for the piece is composed by Denis Clohessy, and Before was at the Watergate in Kilkenny for the start of a nationwide tour.


Kevin C Olohan in 'Cassowary'

In fairness, Kevin C Olohan doesn't claim that his work Cassowary is a play. Because it isn't one. But then, it's not not one either.

Inhabiting a persona called Roman O'Talun, Olohan takes his audience on a journey from Wicklow town through Temple Bar and the Australian rainforest.

It's all based on the fact that Roman has been "ornithophobic" ever since his childhood, when a giant heron ate his goldfish (one of them called Paul Ringo) from the garden pond made out of a discarded bathtub.

So now he prefers an inanimate best friend…a tiny electric guitar called Paschal, which is his constant companion.

That's another way of saying that Roman/Kevin is a folk singer. A folk singer who worships Dylan, and has as his mantra what Liam Clancy said to Dylan back in the day: "No fear, no envy, no meanness."

Except that on tour in Australia and on an off-duty bus tour of the outback/rainforest, he encounters what has become his greatest fear - the giant cassowary bird, now almost extinct, and the most dangerous bird on the planet.

And then there's the gimpy-gimpy leaf (I think) which looks like a giant dock leaf. And we all know how useful dock leaves can be if a chap is, um, caught short in the wild. Except the gimpy-gimpy leaf has the opposite effect, more or less, to a dock leaf, with predictable results.

And there's the almost-girlfriend who demands that he says goodnight to her small dog Toby, which puts a definite whimsy no-no on that relationship.

The chit-chat is entirely amiable and links a lot of amusingly charming original folk-songs of illustration.

Cassowary is a pleasant interlude, with Olohan directed by Aindrias de Staic, and it's at Theatre Upstairs at Lanigan's Bar on Eden Quay in Dublin.

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