Theatre Royal: Underneath
IT’S a tale that comes from beyond the grave; a mahogany-creased-wizzened hand reaches out to you from the tomb and a charred-ugly face grabs you by the throat and never lets go. A butt-ugly dark tale of loneliness and isolation told a-top a tomb from the fringes of society. And that’s a world that all Kinevane’s characters inhabit: the old, the lonely, the isolated and the quietly despairing that inure themselves to suffering. Kinevane searches deep within the characters in a manner that’s always physical and theatrical. He asks you to see issues and traditionally-held beliefs in a different way in order to arrive at the truth, because as he constantly reminds us: ‘you never know what’s around the corner’.
Set in Cobh, the central character called ‘Her’ is the perfect example of the internal outsider; that person who exists separate to, and yet within, the margins of society that is able to see the world as it really is… at a distance. Her is a tall, angular girl that unfortunately always stood out. She just about fitted in until she was struck by a bolt of lightning at the age of nine that left her hideously disfigured. Her eyes are almost welded together and one ear is melted lower than the other. Burgundy branchlike scarring all over and a stammer that prevents her from communicating with her peers. When she finally hits secondary school after three years in and out of hospital, the pointing and the sneering at the hideous masculine appearance starts… “mashed-up monsterface mangirl”. She retreats into her own private world of suffering.
The greatest betrayal comes from a tanned chisel-faced tennis God: Jasper Wade who awakens feelings of self-worth and a real beauty that is underneath. He listens to her and she gives him money because he spins her gullible self yarns of privileged abuse. When she finally discovers the truth and confronts him, the abuse pours out. He calls her “varicose bitch…ugliest bitch ever…a gargoyle”.
She gets hotel work in Cork but flees to Dublin when she bumps into Jasper, now a solicitor. She lives in a flat below Anka from Bulgaria and Lydia from Poland. She knows they’re prostitutes because “they buy their knickers in Next”! She calls them Aldi and Lidl because they give such good value. When Jasper shows up on her doorstep, seeking Aldi or Lidl, events take a sinister turn.
Kinevane’s Her learns lessons that apply to all of us… “I should have cared less, and laughed more”. She recognises that beauty is manipulative, exploitative and shallow. She regularly dips into popular TV programmes such as ‘Downton’ and ‘A Home in the Country’ and dismisses their shallow observances on exposed beams and property’s potential with a curt Cork put-down… “who gives a sh*t like about the problems of the megawealthy in their humongous house?” Kinevane’s background is proudly working-class and it shines through in all the barbs about pretentious “poshwans who are the real Kardashian knackers who vomit in the flower-pots”.
There’s a gallows humour about the entire narrative. “You never know what’s around the corner”… as he constantly reminds us that we’re next for the maggots and the foxes rattling at the bones. Every so often there’s a fleeting sound of a whooshing gale that’s a new soul being birthed. A salutary caution. He wraps himself in a gold curtain like an Egyptian princess, lit romantically by a wine lamp, to remind us of the beauty that lies underneath. It’s a black tale that is physical, theatrical, vivid and is always ironically comic.
Pat Kinevane’s acting is wonderful and a packed Theatre Royal stood in appreciation at the end. Underneath is, quite simply, an amazing piece of theatre.