This new play from Pat Kinevane takes us underneath the skin, underneath conventional society, underneath our perceptions… and even underneath the ground. We’re led on a tour of a life lived in the shadows, on the nightshift and away from prying eyes.
Kinevane is both writer and performer in this solo show; his never-named character is black from head to toe, in both clothes and make-up, but with flashes of gold around the lips and eyes. These colours, black and gold, form an effective palette for the show’s design, the gold standing for moments of beauty against the darkness. The play’s central interrogation is about beauty itself; can we trust it, how transient it can be, and what is real beauty anyway?
It takes some time to discover that the play’s central character is a woman, who lacks conventional physical beauty and is, in fact, found repulsive by many around her. (Her brilliant hearing lets her hear all the insults and comments spoken behind her back.) The fact that she’s played by a man in non-realist costume is a masterful stroke; though her supposed physical defects are described in detail, both by herself and by others, her appearance distances the audience from a direct response – forcing us to engage with her as a person, and not an image.
Kinevane is a compelling presence, dominating the wide stage to the extent that it is impossible to take your eyes off him. But despite the poise and power of the physical theatre sections, at times I couldn’t always see what they added to the production. He is more effective as a chatty and charming host engaging with the audience – yet he can instantly switch to a fearsome rage, and also flips character to parody television shows such as Escape to the Country, satirizing modern conceptions of beauty and our obsession with what’s on the surface.
Once the character’s trajectory is established the plot contains few surprises, yet it’s fair to say that the heart of the play is in the oft-repeated mantra, “You never know what’s around the corner”. It works on a number of levels: it speaks to the cataclysmic event that re-orients her life as a child, and casts her into the shadows; it works in comedy regarding Galapagos, the slowest man in the world; and it is also fundamentally true.
One speech near the end is heavy-handed in its delivery of its message; it reminded me of a picture book of Aesop’s Fables I had as a child, where the moral of each story was specifically pointed out at the end. When it comes to this play, I don’t think it’s necessary to remind the audience what it’s here to teach them. I think they’ve got it – and moreover they appreciate it, as evidenced by the well-deserved standing ovation at the end.