Dir. Alex Solheim
When you don’t want to return into the theatre following an interval, the show has a problem. Either it has been so dire that you’ve been alienated completely from the play, or it peaked right before the interval. With The Pillowman the second was true: from the top of that summit it’s hard not to see the descent looming bellow you.
Alex Solheim’s production of The Pillowman is essentially a very good play, or rather a very good act of a play, bookended by swathes of mediocrity. Written by Martin McDonagh, we witness the gruesome story of author Katurian as he is brought in for questioning following a spate of murders. It’s a great set up that unfortunately wasn’t done the justice it deserves.
First of all, the second act was phenomenal – the dynamic between Akaina Ghosh and Stephen Quinn (Katurian) was equal parts raw and touching. Where characters could have easily been played up into stereotype, the two sparked off each other to elevate the play to its greatest heights. Ghosh in particular should be given praise for embodying the essence of black comedy – taking the audience from laughter to dead silence within seconds. At first glance Quinn plays the straight man to the pairing, yet the deeper into the play we get the more the mask begins to slip. As a leading man, he manages to hit the right notes and then some.
For all that is right with the play however, there is twice as much that unfortunately brings it down. I was unable to see a good chunk of the show, due to the baffling decision to put the actors floor level at the front of the stage during act two – a mistake which could have been avoided had more attention been paid to blocking. In this vein, the performances of the other two actors were sorely lacking: while Ghosh and Quinn avoided stereotype, Lennart Ardeal (inspector Ariel) had more in common with Heath Ledger’s Joker than Luther, while Eveliina Kuitunen’s performance was reminiscent of a passive-aggressive BBC News at Ten presenter. Despite being at opposite ends of the emotional spectrum, they never deviated from each level of intensity, resulting in monotonous performances. This dragged the show down with it – losing any love I had for the play.
Despite casting two female actresses as parts that were traditionally written for men, the director made the confusing choice to leave the original text as it was. Considering their characterisation didn’t seem to rely on their gender, the act of changing the appropriate pronouns and references from brother to sister would have allowed for a more coherent experience. Presumably Kuitunen’s character was being portrayed as a woman – considering she wore high heels – yet she was referred to as a man by other characters.
The Pillowman wasn’t so much a mixed bag as a spoiled trifle – looking back it’s easy to see what was good and what wasn’t. Unfortunately the fault lies at the hands of the director – who doesn’t do enough with half of her cast, nor creates a tight enough sense of focus for the play truly to succeed.