Louise Farnall delves into the surreal and gruesome world of ‘The Pillowman’
From the unsettling pre-set of an interrogation room containing a suspect with a bag over his head, it was clear that UCLU Drama Society’s production of Martin Mcdonagh’s ‘The Pillowman’ was not going to be particularly cheerful. Despite the morbid plot, I really enjoyed the production, not only because of the excellent script, but the whole piece flowed well and was approached with a good level of surreal seriousness and humour.
Jasper Bartlett gave a particularly strong performance as the writer Katurian, bringing an absurd incredulity to a character with little concrete characterisation to go on, contrasting this well with a relaxed authority in his scenes as the ‘narrator’ of the short stories. He carried the quite bizarre plot competently, and the more extreme scenes, for example the murder of his brother, were as poignant as they were disturbing. Eddie Robinson and Charlie Crossley also gave talented performances as detective partners Ariel and Tupolski, switching between the labels of ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ until it was impossible to tell which was which. There was a good dichotomy between Eddie’s expressive, violent Ariel, and Charlie’s quiet, narcissistic Tupolski, which provided the most effective comedy in the piece through their fast-paced banter. However, I did find a few of Charlie’s lines were muffled due to a lack of diction in more softly spoken moments, sometimes compromising audibility for speed.
Michal, Katurian’s mentally disabled brother, is clearly a very complex and difficult character, and I applaud Lovis Maurer for his consistent performance and good grasp of the text. I was however a little confused by his portrayal, maybe because Michal was played as a character that was much more genuine and grounded in reality than any of the others, which contrasted almost too much with the accepted absurdity of Katurian. That, or Lovis’s awareness of the humour in the text did not give off enough blank innocence to convince the audience of his brain damage. Either way, despite being a little awkward to understand at times it was still a committed performance. I enjoyed the scenes in which Katurian’s disturbing stories were acted out, although I might even have appreciated them being a little bit more gruesome, to provide a greater contrast with the already harsh reality of a violent police force.
As much as it is a cliché, the staging was simple but effective, and the production made good use of a white wash and sound effects to create an uncomfortably mundane atmosphere. Although set changes could have been faster, the cast never let this slow the pace too much. Gripes about certain issues aside, I really enjoyed what was a very solid performance of a difficult text and subject matter. The ‘real’ story, and the stories within the play were harrowing and played with confidence, and directors Charlie Macnamara and Lola Szczotarska accomplished the move from quick-witted humour, to a poignant and dramatic conclusion, leaving the audience gripped from start to finish.
Image credits: Danté Kim