Soho Theatre, London

Pat Kinevane has just the face for silent movie star, Rudolf Valentino. The nose is broad, the eyes, accentuated by eye-liner, blaze and grow large like golf balls.

© Maria Falconer

© Maria Falconer

He is terrifying – and charismatic. And Silent, produced by Irish new-writing company, Fishamble (founded in 1988) has reached London already well laden with awards, the latest at the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years ago.

Silent tells the tale of street hobo, Tino, named in honour of his gran’s devotion to the movie star and his father’s singalong to a gramophone recording of how `when one [star] falls [Valentino died young, at 31], God always calls a star to take its place…’

`Tino’ appears to us first under a blanket, a writhing figure who emerges dressed in evening jacket and barefoot – a dancer who moves with more than a touch of Lindsay Kemp camp about him. The whiff of androgyny pervades the evening like a long-lost dream…

And it is Tino’s much missed homosexual brother, Pearse, named after the Irish nationalist that Tino cannot get out of his head. Silent, in part a homage to silent movies, to homelessness and the mental health issues that beset those who find themselves on the streets, is also a furious indictment of Irish homophobia. Pearse, says Tino, was born into the wrong time, in 1987. `There were lads in the town who would gladly have kicked him to death if they had proof…’ The strain took its toll on the younger brother who tries to take his life on several occasions, earning his mam’s unstinted fury and swipes around the head. Finally Pearse succeeds. And Tino can never forgive himself for standing by and seeing the stress and damage done to Pearse by his tormenters.

© Maria Falconer

© Maria Falconer

All of which comes to us in a tour de force solo show delivered by Kinevane and directed by Fishamble director, Jim Culleton as a challenging, sometimes indulgent but extraordinarily original dance/mime/grand guignol display – glitteringly provocative and lethal one moment, disarmingly chatty the next.

And the language. It tumbles and spews forth in torrents of description of local (un)worthies as if Dylan Thomas had suddenly wound up in Cobh, County Cork rather than Laugharne.

Kinevane’s descriptive writing eye – for he is both creator and interpreter – is piercing when it comes surveying members of his community, almost to the point of misogyny. With extravagant hyperbolic relish, he summons up essences of his mam, Gretta the German funky jewellery maker, his mother-in-law and Noellette Amberson who one night reported Pearse to the `polis’ kissing a young sailor down the alley beside her boutique and later is traumatised when Pearse commits suicide in front of a train on which she is travelling.

Kinevane certainly takes no prisoners. But he also rages eloquently, magnificently and with enormous compassion via his assumption of the hapless Tino and cod Valentino silent movie sequences, on the side of those whose shattered lives bring them down – in Tino’s case through guilt, the bottle, anti-depressants, hopelessness. `The carnage left behind by the system’, he explodes at one moment.

At 95 minutes, Kinevane and Silent hang on perhaps 10 minutes too long.

But it’s a brilliant conceit to imagine small town life as if a silent movie in a performance and with a presence never to be forgotten.

The largely young, female audience shrieked their approval at the end for all the cruel satire and humour on show, so brilliantly exploited by its author-performer. Kinevane has us in his hands ever as much as Valentino exercised over his adoring public.

Silent is at the Soho Theatre to July 25, 2015

First published in Londongrip in July 2015