It may be a hugely significant day in the life of a gentle farmer, but he isn’t one to make a song and dance about it.
That's partly because the dapper Pontias – named, he tells us, "after the pilot fella" – is an unassuming character, so benign and salty a creation from writer and performer Pat Kinevane that he wears the tragedy of his orphaned youth and long-separation from an adult daughter with self-deprecating, affecting wit. It's also because he loathes the song-and-dance form. "The strangest s**t will pop up in a musical," he informs us. It would be easier to argue if he hadn't just burst into song.
That's the sustained fillip of Kinevane's new collaboration with director Jim Culleton for Fishamble, retaining the Spartan methods of their previous trilogy of solo performances, while playfully invoking the sweeping grandeur of big-budget escapist entertainment. To fans of Forgotten, Silent and Underneath, the proposition of Before will sound both tantalising and tongue-in-cheek: Pat Kinevane, now in Technicolor.
Set in Clerys department store, on its surprisingly sudden last day in operation, that makes Kinevane's juxtapositions between gravity and gossamer all the more wry. Here, a nervy Pontias has arrived to buy his daughter a gift before their reunion, while the disembodied voices of a bluff security guard and an omniscient PA system offer him warm encouragement. (The strangest s**t will also pop up in a Pat Kinevane play.)
If Pontias really is averse to musicals, he somehow manages to fit right in. Kinevane and composer Denis Clohessy pastiche the classics, from Cabaret to Chicago, Singing in the Rain to Oklahoma, but though the lyrics may mock, the performance does not. Both Kinevane's singing (against a backing track, lush with strings, recorded by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra) and his dancing, under Emma O'Kane's sinuous choreography, are so tight that Bob Fosse would offer a clawing paw gesture of approval. "Yeah!"
What Pontias may be escaping from is less vividly sketched, often telling his story under drab working lights, then sliding into a pleasing haze of smoke and spotlights for the musical fantasy. Kinevane alludes to a drab but indelible religious upbringing, where a young Pontias finds allies in an enchanted swarm of insects and a kindly crone called the Pelican – a rare happy relationship, you’d imagine, with the birds and the bees – but a sexual encounter still “devoured me like a plague of locusts”. That a related betrayal awaits him in a place called Gethsemane, pushes the point knowingly. At one moment of exasperation, Pontias breathes out an oath: “Jesus Christ Superstar!” What has shaped him more, the bible or the musical?
Kinevane’s performance works like a spell, with the intimate rapport of a responsive solo show (which the audience often respond vocally) and the broader canvas of his musical imagination. If the spell ever breaks, the logic of the play can be harder to follow, its visions of life’s tribulations and the rewards of paradise – the before and after – fuzzily intermingled under Clerys clock.
But when Pontias sings sweetly of one musical idol, the magisterial Gene Kelly, whose grace he imagines overcoming all suffering, and Kinevane later reveals dance skills that count as a real showstopper, heaven can be found in the most unlikely places.
Touring December 5th - 6th Belltable, Limerick then December 8th at Riverbank Arts Centre, Newbridge