The Pillowman

February 3, 2016 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★☆☆      Ambitious

Bedlam Theatre: Tue 2 – Sat 6 Feb 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Spirited and clever, EUTC’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman has all the requisite cartoon violence, but in the end lacks the necessary punch.

In an unnamed totalitarian state, writer Katurian is interrogated by the police, who are interested in a series of murders that seem to echo the plots of his gruesome fairy tales.

Esmee Cook (Ariel) and Scott Meenan (Katurian). Photo: Glen Shepherd

Esmee Cook (Ariel) and Scott Meenan (Katurian). Photo: Glen Shepherd

The combination of pitch-black comedy and blood that McDonagh often employs is very much in evidence here and a successful production must take account of this. What is missing, though, is a certain dark and manic energy, a wholeheartedness that has to take on the story’s darker elements without flinching.

The pair of interrogators, Tupolski and Ariel, certainly nail the comic elements, but struggle to convince as truly horrendous individuals. The characters’ casual and poisonous prejudice seems tacked on, rather than flowing naturally from the people we see.

Paddy Echlin has great timing as Tupolski but is too affable to carry off the character’s more disgusting moments. Esmee Cook’s Ariel is in many ways a finely realised performance but in the end is just too polite to be a psychopath.

interesting and subtle performance

There is great play made throughout McDonagh’s script of the nature of storytelling – its role, impact and political relevance. To this end, Katurian’s stories (which usually feature children meeting terrible ends) are sprinkled liberally throughout the play. Unfortunately, they do not always have the impact they might.

Sasha Briggs (Mum), Saul Garrett (Dad), Scott Meenan sitting (Katurian). Photo: Glen Shepherd

Sasha Briggs (Mum), Saul Garrett (Dad), Scott Meenan sitting (Katurian). Photo: Glen Shepherd

It is not always clear here why such stories could be so dangerous, or so valued by their creator. Scott Meenan’s Katurian does not seem suitably consumed by his creations; at times he does not even seem entirely certain of how they unfold.

This is a shame, as it is an interesting and subtle performance in other ways. In particular, his early interactions with his ‘slow to understand’ brother Michal (Douglas Clark) are the highlight of the production. Their relationship is tremendously played; utterly believable, touching and suitably troubling.

It is due more to the requirements of the script than to Clark’s performance that his character descends into more cartoonish, less fully realised areas. At least this time there is less of the mealy-mouthed decency that hampers some of the other portrayals. This lack of conviction means impetus is often lost, and it all becomes too long and too inconsequential.

Saul Garrett, Sasha Briggs and Sian Davies are well used in smaller roles within Katurian’s stories, which are told in a variety of ways, in a production that seeks to make use of different techniques and effects. These do not always come off, but are all the more satisfying when they do – there is one jump-out-of-your-seat moment that is particularly well realised.

Such ambition seems to define director Emily Aboud’s approach here, and is certainly praiseworthy. Even if much of the production can be filed under brave attempt rather than complete success, this bravery must be commended.

Running time 2 hours 45 minutes (including one interval)
Bedlam Theatre, 11 Bristo Place, EH1 1EZ
Tuesday 2 – Saturday 6 February 2016
Daily: 7.30pm
Full details and tickets on the Bedlam website: https://www.bedlamtheatre.co.uk/shows/the-pillowman

ENDS

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