This show finished on Saturday 06 February 2016, and this page is being kept for archival purposes only.
Tell me a story
Tuesday 02 February - Saturday 06 February
The Pillowman revolves around a writer, named Katurian, who is being questioned by two detectives in a totalitarian state. His stories, which are dark and cruel, often depicting violence against children, resemble a recent group of child murders. His interrogators, Ariel and Tupolski, believe that Katurian is responsible, comparing his stories to the copycat murders. Story upon story is told as the evening progresses, merging fact and fiction as the horrific truth of Katurian and his brother’s past is revealed.
One moment please...
on Friday 05 February for Edinburgh 49
“This show will wring the life out of you, in the best way possible.”
Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding
Pillowman is to dark comedy what heroin is to vapor rub. Martin McDonagh’s tale of bloody flesh and fairytales is dark, dirty and sometimes barefacedly brutal – and in the hands of director Emily Aboud, often stingingly clever as well.
Set in a faceless concrete prison, ‘Pillowman’ tells the story of writer Katurian questioned about gory child murders strongly resembling the short stories he writes. Throw in a heaping helping of torture, a pinch of weirdly psychotic police banter and as much moral relativism as you can stomach, and you’ve got a play which (despite quite a few good laughs) stays tensely uncomfortable the entire way through. Make no mistakes: this show will wring the life out of you, in the best way possible.
But a script without a director doesn’t get too far, and with Emily Aboud returning to the stage after her barnstorming production of Equus, there’s never any doubt it’s in safe hands. Apart from some strangely static blocking at the beginning, her overall vision for the production strikes gold: McDonagh’s work feels just as grittily surreal as it should.
And on the note of surreality, the set for this production is a gem- it’s not often I’ve seen twists dependent entirely on clever set design, let alone done so with such skill. There were some design choices, though, which seemed less prudent than others: a series of videos projected onto the stage wall would have had twice the impact if performed live. Whilst the presentation detracted nothing, it was slightly disappointing to think of its potential. And to sound designer Alex Greenwald, I’ll say only this: The low ambient drone? Fantastically slithery.
Luckily, the propitious problem of wasted potential is brilliantly absent from the cast. Theatre veteran Scott Meenan captures the quiet intensity of Katurian excellently. Subtle yet passionate is a hard duality to pull off, so it was a joy to see it done so well. And even more so when combined with Douglas Clark as Michal: the burden of the fool in black comedy is a heavy one, but Clark makes the part feel as natural as breathing.
Hot off the heels of EUSOG’s Addams Family, Esmee Cook expertly runs the emotional gamut as wonderfully sadistic second-in-command Ariel – but the indisputable star of the police parade is Paddy Echlin as Detective Tupolski. Sardonic and hilariously removed from normal logic, Echlin dominated the stage whenever his annoyingly wrong tie came flapping through the set doors.
The supporting cast were noticeably solid, especially in terms of physical theatre – Sian Davies in particular has a peculiar knack for playing tragically adorable kids.
With such energy and dynamism throughout, however, it was a disappointment to see the production fall into the trap of lengthy and jarring set changes. For a piece which, in every other aspect, set up a wonderfully naturalistic and believable surreality of tone, these seemed like a strange choice. They were luckily few and far between, but are still a bit like stopping a delicious meal to eat a couple of handfuls of packing peanuts.
Overall, I was impressed by Pillowman. It has creative and well-crafted direction and maintains the kind of thick atmosphere most other shows could only dream of (although, making the Bedlam Theatre feel like a freezing cell requires little help). Combine with stellar acting and a well-chosen crew, and you’ve got a production that’ll knock your socks off – and then probably strangle you with them, but still.
on Tuesday 09 February for The Student
Martin McDonagh’s 2003 play depicts the story of Katurian, a writer being questioned by two policemen under a totalitarian regime about the nature of his dark stories that are seemingly synonymous with recent child murders. His brother, Michal, confesses to the murders, placing himself and Katurian in the path of inevitable execution. Having accepted his impending demise, Katurian first kills Michal to save him from the terror of assassination before attempting to save his literature in the event of his death.
Having received several awards shortly after its release, while boasting actors such as David Tennant and Jim Broadbent for its debut performances, The Pillowman could have proved too brave a choice for Bedlam. However, director Emily Aboud tackled the text admirably, allowing an appropriate balance between silences, pauses and crescendos to best exhibit both the narrative brilliance and the actors’ talents.
The minimal yet surprisingly multi-faceted set allowed for a great deal of light experimentation. This was utilised in the reenactments of Katurian’s stories, which featured the father, played by Saul Garrett, the mother, played by Sasha Briggs, and the child, played by Sian Davies. Coloured lighting, projected words and sound clips were used throughout to achieve the sinister effect.
Bravest of all were the overhead projections of stories interlaced throughout the performance to portray the inner workings of the protagonist’s mind. Though they were not entirely successful, it was a somewhat commendable endeavour.
Tupolski, played by Paddy Echlin, and Ariel, played by Esmée Cook, were convincing in their roles and used one another to dark comedic effect. Though they did occasionally fall victim to the overplaying of police brutality, likely due to Ariel’s character originally being written for a male actor, they both achieved relatively layered portrayals.Douglas Clark’s interpretation of Michal was truly charming with a commitment to characterisation that elevated the play to a higher level of sophistication.
His child-like innocence positioned him perfectly to deliver the most poignant line of the play: “What’s done is done and cannot be undone.” Most engaging, however, was the relationship between Michal and Katurian, played by Scott Meenan.
The pair’s interaction was carefully crafted, sincere and at times genuinely moving. So decent was their portrayal that the play could quite comfortably have ended at the end of the first act where Katurian kills Michal in a scene reminiscent of George’s mercy killing of Lennie in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Though the second act is not without merit, it is fair to say that the play would have ended in a far more powerful fashion, suspending the audience in a moment of profound sadness.
This piece raises important questions – ones about how far you will go to save yourself, your family and your legacy. To that end the cast of The Pillowman did an admirable job, elevating Edinburgh’s official student theatre to new heights.