Storytelling is at the heart of Pat Kinevane's haunting and mesmerising solo show Underneath that arrives in London at the Soho Theatre following rave runs in Edinburgh, Ireland and New York. Despite the international journey of the piece Kinevane's warmth and skill at performance makes you feel like you're the first to discover this comic yet deeply moving narrative concerning 'Her', a scarred corpse the colour of charcoal who steps out of a crypt to deliver a life story from the other side.
Kinevane assumes the frame of an unnamed, unloved woman who was physically marked by lightning at a young age, socially exiled from school and lost in life. An encounter with the school heartthrob scars her beneath the surface, coming back to haunt her later in life as she finds a new life for herself and begins to finally develop into the person she has always desired.
It's Beckettian in style, blending a terrific soundscape by Denis Clohessy with some outstanding lighting design that creates a suitably unsettling 'everyplace' suspended between life and death. With just some gold curtain and choice golden props Kinevane draws you in with his masterful physical manipulation. Blending movement, dance and singing this is a virtuoso solo performance that remains tightly controlled despite the crafted disorder and chaos that underpins both narrative and form. Director Jim Culleton keeps a lid on the dramatics until the appropriate points of explosion, and though the pace slightly lags in the latter half, we remain captivated by both story and teller.
The ease of which Kinevane can shift between trivial audience patter, that extends from getting to know the names of the assembled to chiding those who arrive late, to harrowing descriptions of life on the other side is remarkable, and the twists in tone not only keep you absorbed in the frequently fuzzy dramaturgy of the piece but somehow forgive it for its flaws. Just as the piece edges too far towards the philosophical it lurches back into a parody of reality television and pop culture references which holds an underlying metaphor for the eternal human search for happiness.
The loaded language trips off his tongue crafting jarringly beautiful metaphors that describe both the physical situation and the metaphysical one, blended with quick humour and canny jokes that help you form a bond with both character and performer. His relationship to the audience is key to his performance style and the wider art of storytelling itself. Used not as a gimmick, the repeated fracturing of the fourth wall ensures he's constantly connecting and generalising whilst the language sooths the ear and continues to remind us that we're never quite sure what's round the corner.
A committed and heartening delivery that's difficult to resist.