Odyssey Theatre Ensemble present Underneath

UNDERNEATH by Pat Kinevane
Odyssey Theatre Ensemble

Review by Catherine Siggins

photo by Patrick Redmond
One would hardly expect the County of Cork in Ireland to have anything in common with ancient Egypt, however in Pat Kinevane’s new one-man show, Underneath, we find ourselves neck deep in the shadows of the Book of the Dead.

Set in Mr. Kinevane’s hometown, Cobh, the play is an eclectic mix of rural Ireland and ancient Egyptian afterlife imagery, based around the Egyptian belief that the burial tomb was a magical place that allowed the dead to move between the world of the living and the dead, and where your life on earth would be judged. Kinevane has made his audience the gods standing in judgment, as he comes before us to explain the life of his character from cruel childhood to an adulthood of shame, solitude, self-awareness, and death.

An onyx woman rises out of the darkness. The blackness of her skin is the result of its decomposition, as the woman who stands before us is speaking to us from her tomb. We never learn the protagonist’s name, though we get to know Her intimately through the play. It was a life shaped by a childhood accident that badly disfigures Her, and causes her to be shunned within her community. Alone, isolated, hated and reviled, she tells about the people she encounters in her life, who they were perceived to be by her and society at large, and who they revealed themselves to be, the truth beneath the judgments. To the world their outward lives are very different from the reality of their personal existence.

I don’t want to go into particulars, as much of the joy of this play is that you will become part of the story thanks to Mr. Kinevane’s outstanding performance and performance style. This is a hugely entertaining and moving evening of Irish storytelling. The audience gets drawn into his character’s life, and her sense of sad loneliness, and the cruel twist of fate that brings her growing happiness to a sudden and terrifying end. Moments of joy and love, felt from an uncle and acquaintances stand in high relief against the otherwise lonely existence.

However if you are expecting a heavy night of tragedy, you are in for more surprises. Kinevane’s superb writing and performance is full of fun and great jokes as he puts a spotlight on the societies obsession with surface appearance, lampooning its shallowness without restraint. He even does a great turn parodying the television series “A Place in The Sun”, a couple looking for their “perfect property” with unrealistic expectations that border on the ridiculous.

There is definitely something unsettling about the play, outside of the fact that you are being talked to by a corpse. The mix of surreal setting, the savage presence of nature, that also courses through the veins of the people who populate the town where the stories are set, savage and cruel to any weakness perceived in the protagonist. It’s a surprising piece, shifting from stylized movement and the highly theatrical to light hearted and witted conversation, often involving references to contemporary news and celebrity.

Mr. Kinevane allows Her to break through the fourth wall and directly engages a number of the audience, learning their names and having a chat with them before revealing to them more of her story, as if to a close friend. His sharp humour and ability to ad lib make you feel at ease and laugh loudly, until the banter is shattered by the horror of his character’s reality as it breaks through once more.

Indeed his character says she has no friends and has lived her life in hiding for the most part. Death is the loneliest of places, especially when no one will even find your resting place, so when you have the chance to have a chat, go for it.

This play asks a lot of the audience, as Mr. Kinevane doesn’t hold back when retelling the harsher elements. Structured as a kind of shaggy dog story, it goes off on tangents, jumping into different realms, flights of fancy, spanning the past and foretelling the future. It is a narrative that takes the viewer into Her’s imagination, where song and dance and ancient mythology are normal. All of this is achieved through Mr. Kinevane’s remarkable physicality, some gold lame fabric in a black box set, and some very affecting sound design by Denis Clohessy, all under the editorial eye of director Jim Culleton, Mr. Kinevane’s long time collaborator.

This play is something to be experience rather then observed. As the title suggests, this play gets underneath, and takes up residence in your subconscious and feelings, much as the foxes in the next tomb, like a hard to forget dream. Catch it before it’s gone!

When: “Underneath” runs til 30 October, Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8p.m., Sunday at 2pm.

Book your tickets here 


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