Thursday 13 December 2018

Kinevane marries musical theatre and social justice

  • Before Belltable, Limerick December 5 & 6; Riverbank Arts Centre Newbridge, December 8

Distinct brand: Pat Kinevane. Photo Patrick Redmond
Distinct brand: Pat Kinevane. Photo Patrick Redmond

Pat Kinevane has invented his own art form. The talented writer and actor has created a quartet of socially-conscious solo shows with an avant-garde flavouring, for which he has groomed an audience nationally with his distinct brand of intimate virtuosity.

Kinevane is one of the pioneers of the idea that an actor could create their own work by honing their writing skills to suit their particular performance style. There are many others who have replicated his success, including Mikel Murfi and Sonya Kelly. Fishamble: the New Play Company, long-time collaborators with Kinevane, have helped guide a number of performers into this resourceful approach to the sporadic perils of the theatre-acting trade.

The first of Kinevane's quartet, Forgotten, about elderly people, premiered in 2006. The second, Silent, about homelessness, came a few years later and won an Olivier Award in 2016 following a successful revival in London. The third, Underneath, about a girl whose physical deformation scarred her youth, had an exotic dimension.

In this new show, Kinevane tackles the topic of single fatherhood. Pontius, from the Irish Midlands, is an innocent abroad. He fathered a daughter during a one-night stand. When Aster turned four, he was banished from the child's life by her vindictive mother. We meet Pontius in Clerys department store where he is in search of a present for Aster. She contacted him out of the blue in the run-up to her 21st birthday.

Pontius's parents were stalwarts of the local musical society, so his upbringing was drenched in musicals; we get references to Grease, The Sound of Music, Cats. The play is laced with songs set to original music by Denis Clohessy, with recordings performed by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra. Clohessy's music is classic stage musical, and while Kinevane's voice is uncertain, his chutzpah carries the day.

The problem with the play is that the two major ideas - musical theatre and single fatherhood - are not well integrated. We are left waiting a long time for the fatherhood plot to take off as we get the story of Pontius's musical upbringing. When it does kick in, it sharpens matters considerably.

Director Jim Culleton, for Fishamble, pushes Kinevane into some bracing anger.

"I felt like I was locked out of my own life," says Pontius. Kinevane is strongest when he has the social bit between the teeth. While the musical elements of the play are enjoyable, the real value of the material lies in the rage.

 

Astute chronicle of gay-rights activism

I Am Tonie Walsh, Project Theatre, Dublin, Until Tonight

Halfway through Tonie Walsh's astute new play, we hear a recording from nearly 40 years ago of a disco at Ireland's first LGBT centre. Gay rights activists from decades' past cheer and shout, like ghosts within a hidden history. This is the appeal of Walsh's biographical play, written with Phillip McMahon for THISISPOPBABY.

Director Tom Creed's intimate production seats the audience on three sides of Ciarán O'Melia's stylish living-room set, where Walsh, eloquent and sanguine, details a tumultuous personal life. He describes the damage done by an abusive partner, the grief of losing friends through illness, and the shock of a crushing medical diagnosis.

If that account of perseverance sounds like enough for one plot, the writers are intent on having another: that of Walsh as chronicler of Irish gay-rights activism.

That leaves the play crammed, as it tries to tell two stories.

Walsh traces a fascinating history from a community energised in the early 1980s, to a movement partially dissolved through emigration, before finding its vigour in the 1990s. There are admirable reminders of past battles, and staggering insights into the widely forgotten AIDS crisis.

That's a history too big for the play to contain, but there's no denying Walsh's resolve. He's still fighting.

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