Posted: 09 Mar 2014
Newcastle University Theatre
4-6 March 2014
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)
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.