Dir. Jim Culleton, Tron Theatre, 21st September
Silent is an Olivier Award winning play, written and performed by Pat Kinevane, and is defined by contradictions. In it we meet homeless alcoholic Tino McGoldrig (ironically named after the rags-to-riches silent movie star Rudolph Valentino) who once had ‘splendid things’ but now finds himself in a Dublin gutter, cloaked in a ragged blanket, and drunkenly regaling passers-by with tales from his past.
The passers-by are in fact the theatre audience and Kinevane has them hanging on every word of his supposedly inebriated monologue by delivering it with all the extravagance and pantomime intensity of his character’s namesake. One moment he is curled up at centre stage mumbling sorrowfully under an intense spotlight, and the next he is leaping around with all the precision and poise of a seasoned prima ballerina. The sparse staging helps to ensure the audience’s focus remains fixed on Kinevane throughout all of his innovative contortions, which are deployed with such unfaltering accuracy that they fail to detract from the play’s powerful script.
It is a script which seeks to comment upon issues of prejudice and hypocrisy within Irish society and it does so in a deeply moving and sophisticated manner. Tino is haunted by the indignities his gay brother Pearse was made to endure within their rural Catholic community and recounts for the audience the details of many futile suicide attempts which preceded his final leap in front of a train packed with bigoted local busybodies. He moves from one heart-breaking memory to the next, pausing only when a new handful of change rattles his cup, and reflects upon how the guilt regarding his ties to a society that enabled his brother’s torture is what ultimately led to his alcoholism and mental breakdown. He kept quiet while Pearse suffered and did what was expected of him – he got a good job, married and had a child, bought himself many material status symbols and achieved coveted outward respectability – but deep down his grief was metastasising until it negatively impacted every aspect of his life. His words are testament to a vanishing Ireland in which homosexuality is demonized, mental health issues stigmatized, and the hypocrisy of a dual obsession with stringent morality and material markers of respectability is negotiated on a daily basis. An extra helping of poignancy is served by the way in which Tino is offering his insights to strangers in a desperate bid to feel seen and heard from within the gutter of a bustling city full of people who are seemingly blind to the suffering of vulnerable outcasts, whilst striving to obtain ‘splendid things.’
The writing is as rich as Kinevane’s performance and jet black humour is mixed with furious ranting in a way which never feels inappropriate. Indeed, inflections of humour amplify the poignancy of the piece and help to convey the multifaceted nature of the complex issues it deals with. Perhaps a performer of a lesser calibre than Kinevane would not have been able to pull off such an effective blend of comedy and tragedy and ample praise must be given to such a skilled story teller. His pacing is immaculate and he flits between authoritative and bashful delivery styles with such fluid ease that the many emotional twists and turns of the play never feel jarring or overtly manipulative.
In short, Silent is a challenging slice of pure theatre, turbocharged with raw emotion, which masterfully explores difficult subject matter, and at its core ultimately provokes its audience to contemplate our shared humanity.
[Image credit: Maria Levitina]