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  • Chris O'Rourke

Unguarded


Anthony Kinahan in Unguarded. Image by Rob Fay

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The absent father uninvolved in their children’s lives. Often an uncomfortable truth, yet just as often a convenient cliche concealing a comfortable lie. Namely that the Irish legal system serves the best interest of its children. It's outmoded notions of family unquestionably favouring the mother. Meaning that for children born out of wedlock the mother is legally deemed the de facto best parent. The father having no rights unless granted guardianship by the mother who can deny visitation, or take the child to live abroad, and there’s nothing the father can do about it. Even when granted guardianship the mother’s parents can claim custody should she die. Even if the child is happily living with the father. A situation complicated when families with infertility issues, or gay parents, resort to surrogacy. A shocking and disgraceful state of affairs which performer Anthony Kinahan purports to explore in in his one person show, Unguarded. Except he doesn’t.


Instead, Kinahan serves up a touching tale of a widower struggling with grief. Stephen, a frayed nerve end wrestling with the new normal of being a single parent tries to juggle work while raising his musical theatre obsessed child Tadgh, his neurodiverse son with more energy than a Duracell bunny. Little of which is explained directly, Kinahan cleverly trusting his audience to do the unpacking. For a long period little happens beyond exposition, with even less being at stake, resulting in slice of life character studies. Tadgh, showing passion more than prowess, is gearing up to audition for a school musical as Stephen struggles to cope following his husband Conor’s death. A cameo by Conor’s parents near the midway mark introduces the villains of the piece. An alleged homophobic couple set on getting custody of their grandchild as, legally, Stephen is recognised as Tadgh’s guardian given he was born of a surrogate mother.


With Tadgh’s grandparents never getting to state their case, the question of could they get custody as opposed to should they get custody should have dominated. But given Stephen’s secondhand relationship with his nuisance son, you’re likely to feel the grandparents might better serve their grandkid. Evident when strain hits breaking point and Stephen lashes out verbally at Tadgh. But Kinahan recovers somewhat by having Stephen ask deep question of himself as the ending nears. Kinahan’s rigour in this instance challenging his tendency to lean into cliched emotional descriptions leading to a far too easy, happy families ending. The legal issue left looming. Looking like a dramatic device rather than the fully explored theme it claims to be.


Under Anna Simpson’s direction, Kinahan’s unchallenged text, like a novel without description, or an early draft of a screenplay, never quite finds its theatrical frame. This despite Simpson throwing quite a few frames at it. Compositionally, from Kinahan self-consciously morphing into other personalities like John Carpenter’s The Thing, to lacklustre movement sequences it would be a stretch to call choreographed, stage images look shoddy and poorly realised. Yet when Simpson finds her moments she holds her weaker ones to account, especially her perfectly timed sound design. Colin Doran’s lights might likewise fall short in places, yet smart projections, vastly underused, provide a hugely effective counterpoint. All of which places a huge responsibility on Kinahan, who, whilst buckling at times under the writer, performer, producer weight, still carries it over the finish line.


With Unguarded, part of its joy comes from seeing young theatre makers setting out to pave their way on their own terms. Failing at times, as they must, they hopefully take the lessons and hone their craft. Like Tadgh, Kinahan might not be quite the finished article just yet, but his passion, enthusiasm and utter commitment carry you along. Unguarded might not have its theatrical head screwed on quite right in places, but its heart is large and loving, making Unguarded just that little bit adorable.


Unguarded, written and performed by Anthony Kinahan, presented by Droichead Arts Centre and An Táin Arts Centre, is currently on tour.


For more information check local venues.

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