Friday, October 25, 2019

Before – affecting tale of schism and lost parenthood (Fishamble in The MAC until 25 Oct) #BIAF19

Beginning with a monologue before bursting in song and dance, Pat Kinevane explores what it’s like as a father to be cut off from access to your child. There’s anger, reflection, longing, and stacks of hope, as his character Pontius wanders around Clerys shopping emporium in Dublin to find a present for a 21-year-old daughter. As time ticks down on the store’s closing day, he counts the minutes and hours until he is going to finally see after 17 long years.

Before is Kinevane’s fourth solo show with Fishamble, following on from Forgotten, (Olivier award winning) Silent and Underneath. He’s a confident solo performer, dressed in black with bare arms waving, and a fulsome set of expressions on his face, as he animates the 80-minute show. The pain Pontius carries is tangible, expressed through twists and frowns and wind milling limbs, whispers and screams.

The set and costumes are black, with a hint of grey, and occasional white props add to the feeling of exclusion and rejection. Kinevane synchronises his dialogue – delivered in his beautiful lilting Cork accent – with a rich atmospheric soundtrack (recorded by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra) and increasingly less professional and quite personal tannoy announcements that boom across the department store.

What starts as gentle swearing ramps up in tone to match Pontius’ deep sadness and annoyance at his familial estrangement. There’s great use of shadow as Kinevane paces around the bare stage, and one scene lit only by the blinding light emitted from two Android tablets. Jim Culleton’s direction creates symmetry and movement while the writer/performer throws in a quick rumba and even a tap dance to this fantastical tale of lost parenthood.

Named after the great hand-washer, we learn about Pontious’ upbringing. We discover why this rural farmer has left his cows and dog behind to venture into the bustling city centre. We learn why he hates musicals – he may even sing about it – yet they help him understand his life. We get caught up in his rage and his sadness floods the stage. The ending’s twist hit me unawares, a real emotional punch that rather shockingly concludes the story, a reminder that parents going living through this issue don’t always find a happy resolution.

Before is a story of being deliberately wronged and finding the state taking sides in a schism. It’s an affecting story that is often spellbinding, exuberant, full of structural and performance surprises, and showcases the huge talent of Pat Kinevane.

The final performance of Before at Belfast International Arts Festival is on Friday 25 October in The MAC. Check out my preview of other picks from the rich 2019 Belfast International Arts Festival programme which runs until 3 November.

Photo credit: Patrick Redmond and Maria Falconer

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