From Elvis To Tango Via Loneliness And Freedom

by Sean Hillen

Pat Kinevane is a versatile Irish actor – of that there’s no doubt.

As such, one can expect many surprises when he’s on stage, especially in his riveting one-person performances.

Such is the case with ‘King,’ the latest in his series focusing on people struggling with loneliness and illness on the margins of society, which was presented this weekend in association with Fishamble Theatre Company at An Grianan Theatre in Donegal.

In this work, Kinevane is Luther, a middle-aged Cork man telling his distressing story about battling mental illness. Named in memory of his Granny Bee Baw’s hero, Martin Luther King Jr., he  only leaves his apartment for essential journeys and to perform in a local club as Elvis.

Photos courtesy of Fishamble Theatre Company

Surprises showcasing Kinevane’s many talents include his depictions of multiple characters ranging from Luther’s grandmother offering her precious advice on life to a teacher, a pharmacist and a singing impersonation of Elvis Presley complete with cape, as well as his repeated rendition of tango steps, a dance that brought his prize-winning parents together.

Kinevane also uses sudden off-stage movements to enhance his dramatic purpose, disappearing entirely at one point to wash his hands, an unexpected situation in a one-man show, to walking through the audience in another scene.

Luther’s sense of isolation is both disturbing and grim, and is aptly reflected in the setting, an almost bare stage comprising basically a chair, an ironing board, a mop and a bucket.

Modern twists to the performance include an off-stage voice and profound mood music by Denis Clohessy.

Kinevane’s portrayal of a fragile man attempting to maintain some semblance of sanity in the face of psychological difficulties including psychotic episodes and frequent panic attacks wrought upon him by loveless parents is beyond reproach. We feel compassion for the unfortunate Luther, more so when we learn how he was forced to sell his furniture and even his mother’s dresses to help pay the bills.

As for the Argentinian tango, as Luther explains, it is the only dance in which people are physically heart-to-heart so perhaps repetition of the steps is his desperate way of attaining the love he lacked during his lifetime.

While the overarching theme of Luther’s predicament is well highlighted, I expected the script to go beyond this sad statement of affairs but it failed to rise to a level that satisfied my yearning for something more. Perhaps also, there are more minor characters created than necessary for the story. 

Somehow, while diverse elements of this play, such as Elvis and the tango, are indeed inventive, there doesn’t seem to be an easily defined connection or rationale between all the ‘moving parts’ to produce a resounding ‘wow’ effect. While enjoying Kinevane’s considerable acting prowess (as did the audience which give him a standing ovation), no light bulbs went on in my head. And my companion wasn’t even close to tears, which is highly unusual in such circumstances.

If the idea of freedom was the underlining message of the play, which Luther’s grandmother reiterates often to him, the ending really doesn’t show it.

King’ is directed by Jim Culleton and the creative team of Pius McGrath and Catherine Condell, with choreography by Kristina Chaloir and Julian Brigatti.

Fishamble and Pat Kinevane have previously collaborated on four other solo acts – Forgotten, Silent, Underneath and Before – which have won major international accolades including Olivier, Fringe First, Herald Archangel, Adelaide Fringe, and Helen Hayes awards.


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