'The body has a language of its own'
Pat Kinevane’s theatrical epiphany was ‘like being walloped about the back of the head’, and the result is mesmerising work about contemporary issues
WHEN CORK ACTOR Pat Kinevane started his first job with An Post, he used to “travel to Dublin in-between shifts to go to the theatre. I’d go to the Abbey, the Gate, to see all the big names, and some of the most incredible productions of the plays of Beckett and Yeats.” Then, in 1983, he saw Tom MacIntyre’s expressionistic adaptation of Patrick Kavanagh’s epic poem The Great Hunger, “and it was like being walloped across the back of the head”.
For Kinevane, who had been involved in community drama throughout his teenage years, Patrick Mason’s production was to become a keystone for his own ambitions. He threw himself into the amateur dramatic scene and it “was a baptism of fire, a training in all the fundamentals: how to make sure you’re heard at the back of the hall, how to make a set stand up”.
Kinevane had always been attracted to the “more theatrical kind of theatre. I had seen the likes of Dublin Contemporary Dance on tour down in Cork, and I remember sitting there watching the dancers and translating it all in my head. I loved the way you could tell a story through gesture; the fact that the body had a language of its own.”
Soon he found himself training in movement with Vincent O’Neill at the Oscar Mime Company, and by the early 1990s he was working as a professional actor in “what was for me Mecca. There I was, working at the Abbey, at the Gate, where I used to sit as a punter watching the greats. There I was in a Tom MacIntyre play. I remember, when I was still in Cork, making a recording of myself as Christy Mahon from The Playboy of the Western World and sending it in to RTÉ Radio Drama, and then suddenly I was in the studio playing the part.”
With his tightly shorn head, long face and strong chin, the 45-year-old Kinevane is a distinctive physical presence, although, sitting in a tracksuit in the Westbury Hotel, you might not necessarily recognise him as an actor. His broad shoulders have become slightly stooped over the years, while a slight paunch betrays a sweet tooth, which is sated during this interview by a selection of French pastries and scones, a Diet Coke and several sugar lumps in his tea.
Even so, when he stands and moves, he commands attention, and, alone on stage in his latest solo-show Silent, he is mesmerising as Tino McGoldrig, a homeless man haunted by the death of his brother and the spirit of the silent movie star Rudolph Valentino.
Silent was commissioned by Fishamble: The New Play Company, and Kinevane credits the company with kick-starting his writing career. This is his fourth play with them, and “without their encouragement, I don’t think I would have had the confidence to put the work out there. I don’t think it’s easy for an actor to be accepted into the slipstream of a writer’s career and there’s always the fear that you won’t be accepted.”