The Pillowman

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The Pillowman

Posted: 09 Mar 2014

Newcastle University Theatre Society

4-6 March 2014

Northern Stage

 

Let’s get straight to the point: this was the best theatre production I’ve been to in ages. The performances of Dan Lockett (as Katurian) and Ruaidrhi Johnston (as Michal) were immense.

The Pillowman is a disturbing black comedy that earned The Olivier Award for Best New Play in 2004, amongst a host of accolades it collected for Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. The main character, Katurian, is a writer under arrest. The objection to his writing is that his stories depict violence against children. Heavy stuff – with the weight made heavier by the apparent fact that several child murders appear to be re-enactments of his tales.

Grilled by a detective double-act whose style and technique seem lifted from Pinter’s The Birthday Party, Katurian’s main aim is that his stories survive even if he doesn’t.  The play poses questions about power and freedom which grip sufficiently to avoid getting ‘numb-bum’ – even on hard seats in a poky little studio theatre at Northern Stage, and despite it being over 100 minutes until the interval.

Lockett takes the lion’s share of the credit for this. Few plays can give any actor as many lines to learn. Katurian is on stage the whole time and talks for most of it. Simply learning the script is an achievement not to be underestimated.  For many of those lines Lockett fixes his gaze on the audience, almost daring them to rustle a sweet paper or try and get more comfortable. This is not a play for sitting comfortably.

Once Katurian’s brother Michal is introduced, the scenes between the two brothers are excellent. Michal is slow to get things and is convincingly played by Johnston, a very big lad with a rich velvety voice. He’s a brilliant foil for Lockett, delivering his lines with impeccable timing. The relationship between the characters is very like that of George and Lennie in Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, and just as the reader is drawn into Steinbeck’s famous story, so too here the audience found themselves concerned for the characters despite the fact that one or both of them seemed to be responsible for gruesomely repulsive crimes.

A sharp script that provided laughs when you didn’t want to laugh means that the writer takes a share of the credit, but undoubtedly it was the performances that made The Pillowman something to keep you awake.

 

Rob Mason

 

 

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