Image courtesy of Mollie Hodkinson.
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.