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  • Chris O'Rourke


Pat Kinevane in King. Image by Maurice Gunning


Were bookies to open bets on the best loved theatre makers in Ireland, odds are Pat Kinevane would be amongst the odds on favourites. Adored, revered, the sensitive Cobh native and creator of Forgotten, Silent, Underneath and Before seemed to single handedly revitalise the one-person show. Assisted by fellow Olivier Award winner, director Jim Culleton. Now, with King, Kinevane is back with another story about a lonely Cobh man living on the fringes of society and falling through its cracks. Luther, named by his Grandmother after Martin Luther King Jr, is a man with mental health issues who impersonates Elvis. Not the hip swivelling, Sun Studios Elvis. Rather the Las Vegas, greatest hits Elvis. Which sees King, like Vegas Elvis, relying heavily on materials seen and heard before, and carried along by an undying devotion to its impressive performer.

As with his previous four plays, the Kinevane's signatures are writ large. A lonely man from Cobh with a complicated family history, facing overwhelming personal and political oppression, tries make it through the long days with his love of dance, a penchant for costumes, and a reverence for an icon. Elvis supplanting Valentino in this instance. Once again, death is always around the corner. Again it's a tale where narrative is mostly retrospective, talking about what happened as opposed to what’s going on, with a twist right at the end. What’s going on amounting to Luther preparing for a wedding gig where he will impersonate Elvis as a warm-up act, thanks to bride Indira, his local pharmacist. After which he might even get a date with Flossy. All of which he relays to an audience of imaginary friends. Along with stories of his grandmother BeeBaw, the teacher Savage, his dead mother, and his father Pawdy who is easing towards death, and who Luther visits daily despite hating being amongst crowds.

Pat Kinevane in King. Image by Maurice Gunning

If, under Culleton’s direction, King travels full circle visually, story still feels not quite developed. Linking the experience of black Americans and immigrants with the Irish under English colonial rule sees a point rather than a case being made. Similarly, a wedding singer who struggles fiercely around people doesn’t quite compute. Movement sequences, which carry a lot of expressive heft, are not enough to fill in the blanks. Kristina Chaloir and Julian Brigatti’s choreographed tango lacking power and poise. If the intent was to juxtapose what Luther imagines with what’s actually seen, speaking of passion and dreams thwarted by an unsupported life, it could have been handled better. Either way, it overplays its hand. As do Mairead Whisker’s costumes, suggesting Elvis has left the building to be replaced by a clean shaven Ming the Merciless, or an aspiring hip-hop pimp minus his hat. All of which leaves Pius McGrath’s superb light design to do much of the emotional heavy lifting.

Always, a one person show is an encounter. Which will likely leave the court of public opinion divided on King. The unkind would argue Kinevane’s fifth variation on the lonely, likeable, loner from Cobh has become formulaic, retelling the same story in essentially the same way. Wondering if Kinevane has gone to the well once too often. For others, even if King is a series of greatest hits performed by the Kinevane equivalent of Vegas Elvis, he’s still Elvis. Not a ghost of his former self, just a different incarnation. Kinevane still capable of having the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. The census report, or mopping the floor and chatting casually, moments of pure Kinevane gold. With King, what you see might well depend on how you look. Yet even if not at their best, Kinevane and Culleton are always worth the look.

King, written and performed by Pat Kinevane, directed by Jim Culleton, presented by Fishamble:The New Play Company is currently at The Pavilion Theatre, Dub Laoghaire as part of a national tour.

For more information, visit Fishamble: The New Play Company


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