The Pillowman

What is more important, your life, or your life’s work? Writer, Katurian, faces this question in Martin McDonagh’s award winning jet black comedy, currently playing at the Little Theatre under the acute direction of Megan Dansie.

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Presented by the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild
Reviewed Saturday 1st October 2011

http://www.adelaide.edu.au/theatreguild

Venue: Little Theatre, University of Adelaide, North Terrace, Adelaide
Season: 7:30pm Tues to Sat, 4th to 8th and 11th to 15th October 2011
Duration: 2hrs 30min incl interval
Tickets: adult $25/conc $20
Bookings: Guild 8303 5999 or BASS 131 246 or http://www.bass.net.au (booking fee applies)

What is more important, your life, or your life's work? Writer, Katurian, faces this question in Martin McDonagh's award winning jet black comedy, currently playing at the Little Theatre under the acute direction of Megan Dansie. The Guild have had a good year so far, artistically, and this continues that run, putting another feather in their cap.

As the play begins, we find Katurian in a bare and depressingly decaying room, sitting, blindfolded but untied, on a chair facing a desk. Two men enter and one, Detective Tupolski, ridicules him for continuing to wear the blindfold. It is easy to see why he was too scared to remove it until told as the other man, Tupolski's subordinate, Ariel, is keen to start the brutality.

For a moment it looks like the old good cop, bad cop routine, but not for long. It does not take more than a few moments to realise that this is more like a bad cop, worse cop scenario, and it is often hard to tell who is in which role at any point in time. As for Katurian, he has not the slightest idea why he has been arrested and is now being interrogated in a very oblique fashion, with Ariel wanting to get physically violent with him and Tupolski playing endless mind games.

Katurian writes stories that are grimmer than Grimm but, of the four hundred he has penned, only one has been published. Nonetheless, he has great faith in his works and believes that they will eventually be recognised for the masterpieces that he believes them to be. It is unclear to him what the problem might be, but it seems that his stories are the reason that he has been taken into custody. It is just as unclear to him as to why his mentally challenged older brother has been arrested and placed in another room nearby.

The first and last sections of the play are set in the interrogation room, and the central part is in his brother's room, where Katurian is thrown after a beating. They talk while they are alone together and Katurian discovers what it is that the police are trying to find out. He and his brother are both under threat of execution and, with no way out, he brokers a deal with the police to place his writing on his file to be released in fifty years in exchange for his confession.

Throughout the play there are references to his stories and, as asides, he tells them in full to either the audience or to other characters in the play. Some of them are dramatised as he tells the stories. Through them, we learn more of his parents, his psyche, and of the condition of his brother. Many long held secrets are revealed, by all four of them, tenuous understandings and acceptances rise and vanish, and the ending is not quite as expected.

As the two officers, completely autonomous in this this totalitarian state, are Tony Busch, as Tupolski, and Gary George, as Ariel. They are a great double act, rather like an old married couple, needling one another, squabbling, pulling rank, undermining one another and trying to trip one another up. Busch give us a Tupolski who is suave and sophisticated, but Busch cleverly allows hints an underlying sadistic streak to surface momentarily from time to time. George gives an equally subtle performance, gradually allowing us to see beyond the outwardly strong and violent thug to other facets of Ariel.

Bart Csorba plays Katurian in a bravura performance, carefully constructed, thoroughly believable and highly complex. He gives us two enormously different aspects of his character in his dealings with the police and in the scene with his brother, in which he displays a myriad emotions.

Robert Bell plays Katurian's older brother, Michal. Outwardly gentle, there is more to Michal than first meets the eye. Bell presents us with a naïve and simple soul, who is not entirely as witless as he at first appears. Bell creates a three dimensional character and the audience is caught between sympathy for Michal, due to his past and his mental condition, and horror.

Steve Marvanek plays Katurian's father, and the fathers of the various girls in the stories, while Lucy Sutherland plays his mother, and the mothers of the various girls in the stories. Kate Vanderhorst plays the young girls in the stories, and the real little girl who is thought to have been killed, but is found alive and appears towards the end. These three contribute some strong support to the production with some fine characterisations.

Michael Kumnick has closed off the rear section of the stage, making the locations more claustrophobic and imposing which adds to the unpleasantness of the situations, and Tim Allen's lighting and sound, with Aaron Nash's music, further enhance the oppressive atmosphere.

Megan Dansie has assembled a very fine cast for this production and has created a tense, moving, thought-provoking and powerful piece of theatre that engages the audience. The Little Theatre lives up to its name so, if you want to see this superb production, don't wait too long to book a ticket.

Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Arts Editor, Glam Adelaide.

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