Coronet Production’s performance of The Pillowman sinisterly explores the moral implications of violence in art and literature whilst injecting the play with surprising amounts of dark humour; staging a piece which seems unnervingly relevant. The play follows writer Katurian through a brutal police interrogation into the similarities between the gruesome murders of some local children and his own short stories, creating a disturbing world full of depth and allegory.

“Reduced the audience to intense laughter and horror”

The first act was hilarious and deeply unsettling in equal amounts, with stand-out performances from the whole cast, particularly Harry Bradley’s brash detective Topolski, which managed to expertly blend comic stereotypes of policemen with the disturbing reality of police brutality, creating a complex and intriguing character. Lyle Fulton’s disturbed Michal is given some of the best one-liners in the play, reducing the audience to intense laughter and horror. They were acted with a degree of childishness that both accentuated the humour and made twists leading to the climactic conclusion of the first act even more harrowing.

“The play continued to impress and surprise with its gruesome subject matter and black humour”

For me some of the tension was somewhat lost in the second act after the first’s thrilling climax, it also lacked some of the mystery and gravity that made the first act so unmissable. Despite the shortcomings, the play continued to impress and surprise with its gruesome subject matter and black humour, added to by the incredible acting. The decision to hide the most brutal moments of violence with blackouts not only cleverly sidestepped the issue of making stage violence look believable, but also gave the audience an assault on the senses, with the contrast between the pitch-black darkness and the intensity of the interrogation lights.

“The bleakness of the subject matter was immediately clear”

One aspect that worked particularly well to create the overall atmosphere of the play was the set, designed by Ollie Shortt. Upon entering the theatre, the bleakness of the subject matter was immediately clear through the macabre outlines of children’s bodies on the floor. The abstract nature of the play was also shown through the floating pages of stories around the stage, which made the simple act of picking up a piece of paper visually interesting, giving pace and movement to something which could so easily have been static. The dark beauty of Katurian’s stories was gripping; his story of the Pillowman I found particularly affecting. The bleakness of some of these stories was extracted through projecting simple and child-like videos, designed by Harry Bradley, onto the back wall which not only pulled together the space, but also the fable-like meta-fictionality of the plot.

An intelligent and complex production of an incredibly clever and thought-provoking play; directors Rachel Angeli and Gus Herbert along with the cast and crew, which included members of NNT alumni, should be highly praised for their interesting and cohesive interpretation of such an abstract and morally-loaded script. For a play which deals with questioning artistic legacy, it certainly left an impression on me.

9/10 – Unmissable, almost perfect.

Daniel McVey

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Image courtesy of the Nottingham New Theatre Facebook Page.

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