Warnings on a placard.

fishamble005The placard at the door of the theatre said it all – ‘Violence! Sexual References! Coarse Language!’ – and we’re not talking about a stage version of ‘Midsomer Murders’.

The play was ‘Silent’ and it certainly lived up to the warnings on the placard. It also lived up to the reputation it has garnered as an award winning play and compelling theatre from writer and performer, Pat Kinevan and his association with Fishamble: The New Play Company. The play has toured extensively in Ireland, Europe and the USA to great acclaim and enthusiastic reviews and has won several prestigious awards at the Edinburg Fringe and Brighton Festivals.

In the darkened theatre there seems to be no discernible ‘onstage’ action, the only prop a threadbare, holey and probably smelly brown blanket. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, a tramp-like figure emerges sinuously from beneath it. Nothing is said until the blanket is wound around the tramp’s head, emulating the headdress of a sheik. The narrative likewise is seemingly lacking in any structure. The main character ‘Tino McGoldrig, seems to his audience to be ad libbing, wandering up and down the front row of the raked seating (there is no proscenium, so nothing to separate actor and audience) having little chats with bemused members of the audience. Then almost diffidently we are introduced to what is to become the main narrative, although not the only one. ‘Tino has more than one story to tell, but the story lines interweave, meander into other territories, are interrupted just as they reach a climax (by the sounds of clinking coins being thrown into a tin.) Slowly an underlying structure to the narrative emerges. The tragic details of the life of ‘Tino’s brother Pearse unfold, flowing from the accounts of Pearse’s several attempts at suicide. At the same time, the reasons for ‘Tino’s own descent into alcoholic homelessness and guilt driven depression are revealed as are the contributing attitudes and behaviors of his monster of a mother and the other women in his life.

But it is not all doom and gloom. Kinevane’s genius is creating characters and images with a swirl of his hands or arms. A fascinator or a head covered in hot rollers is conjured up by four fingers placed strategically on Kinevane’s bald dome; a wedding waltz by the brown blanket being shaped into the semblance of a dance partner as the ‘two’ glide across the stage. Different characters are evoked by the clever use of accent and voice tone – the similarities between the Cork accent and French pronunciation provide a hilarious moment. There are obvious and repeated references to the art and conventions of silent movies particularly the use of intertitles to introduce the next phase of the narrative; the glitter of the actor’s eyes in the mask-like face; and the slow exaggerated balletic movement of Kinevane – perhaps more reminiscent of the art of Marcel Marceau than a Rudolph Valentino film!

The clever and strategic use of lighting and sound greatly enhanced the unfolding dramas, as indeed was the use of the (sometimes) cavernous stage itself. The voice-over technique was particularly effective in heightening the tension of ‘Tino’s inexorable drift into depression as was a single shaft of light along which ‘Tino crawled as part of his ‘rehabilitation’ program.

The placard warnings did not disappoint. There was violence, sexual references and coarse language aplenty. Yet we left the theatre with the overwhelming impression of ‘Tino McGoldrig’ as a gentle and compassionate man, overcome by grief and guilt, unable to come to terms with his demons. Certainly, we were confronted by the three of the great ills of our society, homelessness, depression, homophobia. But in the end it was ‘Tino’s story that touched our minds and hearts.

And I think the grotty brown blanket should be nominated for a Tony Award!

Elizabeth McKenzie