Review – The Pillowman

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh – New Wolsey Young Company – New Wolsey Studio until Saturday 2nd Dec

This modern play from the writer of films ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’ takes as its theme one that has been reproduced in many plays and films – and with a storyline that  is almost an exact copy of  an independent 1991 film ‘Closet Land’ – although the writer has maintained that his inspiration came from the original Grimm’s fairy tales which were extremely violent and gruesome.

The play all takes place in a couple of stark cells in an interrogation block somewhere in an unnamed totalitarian state. A short story writer called  Katurian  has been picked up by two police integrators who are investigating a series of child murders which bear a striking resemblance to his work.  To begin with he maintains his innocence but as he play goes on he realises they have also detained his younger brother Michal who is mentally disabled – and he seems to know much more about the crimes than he should. As the play gets darker, and details of the brothers’ disturbing childhood emerges, Katurian has to make a heartrending choice.

Staged on a simple set – this was a hard hitting, and at times shockingly brutal, play but one that was brilliantly acted by a group of performers that could have been professional – and were totally believable in their roles.

Harry Longbottom played Katurian with a gentle innocence at first – but as the play progressed let the character develop into a paradox that we did not know whether to love or hate. George Howarth as his brother Michal was perfectly cast – and was superb at conveying the sympathetic damaged child within the body of the disturbed adult he had become. Charlie Shephard and Tom Beattie played the good cop/bad cop roles with sinister brutality, yet brought in every nuance of the black humour imbedded in the script. The rest of the nine strong cast played out some of the stories, both imaginary and real, of Katurian’s life, as events spiralled to their shocking conclusion.

Directors Aiden Napier and Rob Salmon did not hold back on the violence and visual effects of the piece – but brought out too the human stories behind the depraved actions.

Totally absorbing, brilliantly executed – this was not a play to so much enjoy as experience for the incredible performances of such young actors already so talented.

There is strong language, scenes of extreme violence and descriptions of murder and torture – so this is not for those of a nervous disposition or easily offended – and certainly not for under 15’s.

But if you want to see a thought provoking and well acted production – this is a must.  The Young Company as usual do not disappoint.

Suzanne Hawkes


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