The Pillowman, Everyman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff

March 2, 2023 by

It speaks of the intensity of the storytelling that this Everyman production of The Pillowman was so powerful, its messages so vivid, and the acting so exemplary that some audience members at Chapter thought it had finished at the interval.

This would have been interesting as so many of the questions raised in the first half of the Martin McDonagh play would have been left floating, leaving it to us to work out own conclusions. As it was the second half was exactly that, a not as engaging explanation of what had gone before with some twists that you expect from, say, a Twilight Zone, tale.

However, even at the end, when all is sort of explained both my partner and I were left discussing how we would have ended the play and even twisted the events even further.

But as it is this is a dark, dark work which in some outings has played up the black comedy of the writing, although here the laughs were few and far between. We are possibly a more profound audience, or maybe the direction from Simon Futty intentionally concentrated on the macabre. What is also slightly worrying is that the grisly tales, reminiscent of course of Grimm, were not that grisly. Are we getting desensitised? Similarly, while the acting was superb, particularly Steven Smith as detective Tupolski and Ricky Valentine as the writer Katurian, did we really care that much about the fate of the characters, except perhaps Owain Miller’s appealing portrayal of the writer’s damaged brother Michael?

The story is basically about a writer in an authoritarian state who is interrogated by a couple of policemen as there has been murders that seem copycat to what happens in his dark stories. To say more would ruin the plot and the denouement. Tupolski is sort of a good cop (or is he?) and Ariel, wonderfully thuggishly played by Luke Bowkett, is the thicker violent bad cop (or is he?).

The stories that have seemingly inspired the killings (or have they?) and other Katurian tales are played out in a variety of theatrical styles; actually, acted out scenes, silhouettes behind a sheet, shadow puppets on stick (designed and manufactured by Charlotte Leigh), and just told by the story writer. Usually, another player takes up the tale once it has started. This is all executed splendidly despite the very occasional fluffed word.

The players were Phil Jones, Jen Keating, Daniel de Grunchy, Tim Davies, Carmen Diana Almeida, Felix Jones, Lottie Dunkley and Jess Courtney. They must have all been exhausted by the end of the evening.

Carl Jones and Raynor Phinnemore’s sets and props are imaginative and effective in equal measure, although the Pillowman from Phinnemore was enough to give any child nightmares rather than comfort.

The themes of the work are presumably not only the power of literature but its inherent dangers, although I took away from it a miserable nihilist message. Either way, this is theatre of the highest standard. Get a ticket.

Until March 4


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