Left – Jordan Gallagher and Kiefer Moriarty-Short
The Pillowman isn't the most uplifting play you'll see this year in Perth, but it stands a good chance of being the most disturbingly funny. Produced by newcomers Endless Theatre Company and directed by Rebecca Virginia Williams, Martin McDonagh's The Pillowman is an imaginative foray into the dark territory of child murder; somehow it manages to be a comedy in spite of this with the aid of some clever writing, staging and acting. But don't worry – if you like your theatre black and heavy, there's plenty of that too.
The script is rife with overtones of Grimms' Fairy Tales (before they were sanitised and Disney-fied); the play even centers around two brothers, Katurian (Jordan Gallagher) a tortured writer who acts as protector to the other brother, Michal (Kiefer Moriarty-Short) who is evidently developmentally disabled. Katurian writes short stories that depict brutality towards children, and Michal has trouble distinguishing real life from fiction. It raises interesting questions about what is an appropriate and acceptable exposure to violence, as well as how to mitigate violent tendencies in children.
Gallagher is a talented storyteller; when Katurian breaks away from the plot and recites these bizarre tales he’s written, he is engrossing. He achieves a nice rhythm in his delivery and uses a lot of physicality to enhance the stories; both he and his scene partner Moriarty-Short are quick, nimble and decisive in their movements. Moriarty-Short as Michal does an excellent job of moving between needy/vulnerable and petulant/rebellious. We are never quite sure just how aware he is of his actions, as he seems simultaneously cunning and naive. But he’s also sweetly funny; his portrayal of the character is like a curious mix of Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent from Blackadder and Leo DiCaprio’s Arnie from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. The two actors work off each other nicely and they take the stage with confidence and clarity.
Garreth Bradshaw’s Detective Tupolski is definitely sinister and commanding, but doesn’t quite become physically threatening enough when dealing with Katurian. Bryn Coldrick adds some interesting nuances to ‘bad cop’ Ariel, but again, I’m not entirely convinced of his physical threats. These four actors are all very strong performers, and they do some fine things with the difficult material, but sometimes there is a slight schism between what the script seems to require physically and what the actors are able to embody.
In the end, the ensemble has been able to present something unique and challenging, though; there is so much potential on display, and the production leaves me anticipating more good things from this young group. The production values are solid, especially the top-notch sound design and operation by Drew Krapljanov; his cues were perfectly timed and in tune with the mood and tone of the piece as well as the action.
I do not doubt that Endless Theatre Company’s tenure in Perth will be successful and will build on what is a very promising debut.
Endless Theatre Company presents
by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Rebecca Virginia Williams
Venue: The State Theatre Centre of Western Australia
Dates: 14 – 19 April, 2014
Tickets: $35 – $30