Pros: Top notch performance from a seasoned pro.
Cons: Lightweight narrative doesn’t fulfil expectations.
When a production credits both a ‘costume stylist’ and a ‘costume builder’, audience expectations of said costumes are likely to be high. As solo performer Pat Kinevane emerges from behind the black slab that forms the centrepiece of the set, we see a figure draped in ripped layers of dark fabric, something between a goth cyclist outfit and a nightmarish camouflage uniform. There’s a mythic quality to it, and the fact that Kinevane’s shaven head and face are blackened, with just a splash of gold on the lips, adds to the Mad Max-esque aura of the beautifully freakish. It gives the impression that there’s something important and weighty ahead.
The show’s blurb asks, ‘Is beauty really only skin deep? Does ugliness hide somewhere deeper?’ Hefty questions which should provoke meaty answers; after all, the world isn’t becoming any less superficial or celebrity-obsessed. The story that unfolds (also written by Kinevane) is that of ‘Her’, who was struck by lightning as a child, almost dying but spared to live a life suffering with blasted ugliness. It’s a pitiable tale of cruelty and hope, and you’d need a heart of stone not to empathise, particularly at the vile treatment Her receives at the hands of Jasper, the schoolmate she puts her faith in.
Kinevane expertly brings to life Her, Jasper and an array of other characters including a Galapagos tortoise whose physicality he captures brilliantly, protrusive tongue and all. There’s no doubting Kinevane is a thrillingly theatrical presence, but somewhere in the maelstrom of competing characters the heartbeat of the story gets drowned out. It’s difficult to stay connected to Her’s story when we’re regularly being taken on humorous digressions to a television property show, or conducted in an audience singalong of Titanic theme tune My Heart Will Go On.
The humane exploration of misfortune and unhappiness that is Her’s story also sits somewhat uneasily besides Kinevane’s interactions with the audience, which are frequent and very funny. It’s disorientating to bounce between heartfelt emotion and the broad homespun comedy of Kinevane’s banter, which feels like it would be better suited in an episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys. I’d love to see a whole comedy show from Kinevane in this persona, but it distracts and detracts from the seriousness of the story he’s trying to tell in Underneath, ironically preventing the audience from getting below the surface.
Author: Pat Kinevane
Director: Jim Culleton
Producer: Eva Scanlan
Box Office: 020 7478 0100
Booking Link: http://sohotheatre.com/whats-on/underneath
Booking until: 17 December 2016