“Maybe that was the start of the rot.”
Silent is the tale of homelessness and mental health, and how these are brushed over by society, causing a downward spiral into ‘silence’ . Not only this, but how this experience can happen to a real person with memories, stories, families. A life. Something that a lot of people don’t consider when they walk past the man sat on the floor asking for change late at night.
As I walk into the large studio theatre space on the top level of the Soho Theatre, I ask the usher for a programme. “There’s a space right there if you like?” she advises me, pointing to a singular space remaining in the front row. Who doesn’t like a good front row seat? Well, that was both the best and worst decision I have made in terms of seating preference. Little did I or the usher know that this show would involve an aspect of audience participation. Or, rather, audience representation. Yes, Pat Kinevane who both wrote and stars in Silent picks on me. He asks my name, makes some harmless jokes, and I pretty much think that’s it. Oh no.
From the word go, Kinevane’s tale is completely capturing. He shares anecdotes of Tino, telling the stories to the audience in a similar fashion to stand-up comedy, using direct audience address that is so direct that he comments on the specific audience members and the atmospheres that this creates. We, as the audience, quickly warm to this due to the fact that he completely owns the stage; it is impossible to take your eyes off him. As the stories progress, so do Tino’s emotions and instabilities in life. He keeps referring back to me as a point of reference – a portal to the life before, a life that the audience comprehends.
What I love about the piece is the fact that Kinevane adds so many aspects of dark comedy into the piece. His effortless performance allows his words to resonate around the entire room, creating any effect he wants – the audience becomes putty in his hands. These aspects of comedy allow us to see a detailed, likeable, but also a believable person. The light and shade is balanced beautifully, with many juxtapositions throughout the performance leaving the audience totally stunned.
The direction of the piece is breathtaking. Jim Culleton has given Kinevane the tools to polish this stunning performance: an example being, at many points, the shadows created on Kinevane’s face that mean that we can only see a silhouette. Sometimes, that is all we need. The raw passion and emotion is handed to the audience on a plate and is echoed by delicate shadows that create a very artistic air to the piece. These choices are deliberate yet subtle, and create beautifully powerful images.
I have absolutely no qualms in saying this is some of the best acting I have seen in my life. I have never been so emotionally and intimately involved in a performance before. Kinevane returns to me, each time with less stability and more desperation, until at one point he is on his knees, crying, squeezing my hand, and thanking me for being someone who listens to someone who is so often ignored. I could see so clearly the pain through his eyes and from his soul, and it reduced me to tears. This goes far and beyond regular acting: Kinevane is Tino down to his absolute core. I have never seen this in my life, and it is incredibly moving.
And this is why it was both the best and the worst seat to choose. Audience participation is daunting at the best of times and can be embarrassing, but that’s the small price to pay in order to witness a performance of that level that I saw that night. It was one of the oddest, most surreal and incredible experiences of my life and one that I will never forget. This is an absolute must-see for anyone who is looking for something quirky yet hard-hitting, and I guarantee that anyone who sees this will not be disappointed.
Silent is playing at the Soho Theatre Upstairs until 25 July. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.