Plays, of course, are meant to be seen and not read, but it’s not always possible to see every play. They are not complete on the page, certainly in contemporary theatre where plays can be more collaboratively made than ever before. However, it encourages us (and hopefully others) to read more widely. For the third year, here is our #ReadaPlayaWeek initiative. And, as achieved in 2015, we shall try to choose 26 male playwrights and 26 female playwrights for our play choices.
Week 14: Pat Kinevane’s Silent (2010)
Silent, performed and written by Irish playwright Pat Kinevane, won the Olivier Award this week for Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre (Soho Theatre). In performance, signs and bits of clothing are used as aide-memoirs, voiceovers and music play an integral part, and silent movie is also incorporated. But the text alone is rich and bursting with ideas and insights into humanity and those living on the edge of society.
Silent is about a homeless man, Tino McGoldrig, telling the story of his gay brother Pearce and his different suicide attempts, the last of which was successful (an odd word choice!). He also reflects over his life, how he used to have a job and a wife and a kid, constantly finding parallels with his own life and that of the romantic world of Rudolph Valentino.
There’s so much that I liked about the play: its rough around the edges, it’s at turns darkly hilarious and extremely raw. The title inspires thoughts on the state of homeless people when you walk by them in the street. Homeless people can be silent, lying under sleeping bags asleep or sitting there as the world goes by their feet, but likewise the passers-by can be silent too, rejecting their pleas for spare change as if they are an inconvenience, or pretending not to have heard them ask for money at all. Kinevane upturns the title’s connotations by the having McGolrig as a very chatty figure. The density of the text is noticeable as you flick through the pages. Likewise, he is very likeable, opening his tales with a joke.
Kinevane’s writing is astute. He takes the instantly recognisable minutiae of everyday life and places it in a situation that is nightmarish. He also takes subject areas such as mental health difficulties and broken marriages and writes about them in a down-to-earth way which connects easily to the audience. Those who have experienced mental health issues will recognise the annoyances of phrases like ‘Pull yourself together’, and McGoldrig (in the manner of an observational stand-up) addresses those attitudes and difficulties with honesty and humour. As well as the play exploring feelings of shamefulness regarding homelessness, depression and alcoholism, Kinevane also touches on hints of how delicate relationships can be for the sake of people saving face. There’s his wife who felt like she had to turn away instead of helping him and his mum who felt put out by Pearce’s failed (and blackly comic) suicide attempts. Furthermore, like Mike Bartlett’s My Child, Kinevane evokes the extreme possible effects of being ostracised from your family.
Silent is an extraordinary play. There’s one particular moment of insight into McGoldrig’s life on the streets that opens your eyes to the difficulties of homelessness. People with homes have the ability to turn off at the end of the day, ‘going home to kisses and radiators and gravy and slippers and biscuits and Emmerdale… all the loudness is locked outside’ (Kinevane 2011: 12). People on the street don’t have that luxury.
Silent was commissioned by Fishamble: The New Play Company. I’m unfamiliar with much of the Irish canon, but Silent seems much more directly contemporary than some Irish plays – those which delve into the world of myths. But, like so many Irish plays, Silent is a play featuring stories and storytelling. And there’s a big twist at the end of it.