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The Pillowman - Hayman Theatre Company

Reviewed by Kate O'Sullivan and Jack Bengough


Curtin University's Hayman Theatre is a well-established stomping ground for performing artists, and their current presentation of "The Pillowman" by Martin McDonagh, demonstrates why, with a cast and company predominantly made up of alumni and current students.

Before the show began, there was an announcement of content warnings in the foyer by the front-of-house team. It should be noted that this show depicts and references child abuse and child murder, depictions of mental illness, violence, and police brutality, with additional use of ableist and racist slurs. These are all intrinsic parts of the story being told, and handled well by the production, and will also be referenced tangentially in this review.

The central cast takes hold of the characters well, giving us highs and lows for each character in their unique yet familiar arcs. We see Samuel Ireland undergo an emotional rollercoaster in the role of Katrurian, as he discovers the similarities between his stories and the murders of real children. Of particular note in his performance are his realistic reactions during other characters' storytelling beats. His accent work is particularly notable and consistent throughout the show. Amber Gilmore and Wilson Gilburt are well paired as the police presence of Tupolski and Ariel. They take ownership of the characters and aid in establishing the dystopian police rule within the greater world of the play. There are moments where they feel too casual and lose the underlying threat that these characters bring into the scenes. Some gradation between the bigger comedic and threatening moments, and bringing intensity into the quieter moments would have added to these portrayals, especially in their respective emotional turning points. Completing the core four characters is a strong portrayal of Michel by Colin Gilligan. This portrayal is layered, with more strength in it than this reviewer has seen before, which is very effective in parts, but we do lose some of the childishness and innocence that make this character all the more tragic.

Director Travis Koch has clearly put a lot of thought into the look and feel of this show, which was an affecting experience for the audience. This care is evident in the “real world” scenes, although is less clear in the “story” elements, which occasionally feel like an afterthought. The fight choreography between Ariel and Katurian, for example, is clean, well thought out and done well, whereas the child abuse feels less rehearsed in ‘The Little Jesus’ story. The same goes for costuming - the ‘real world’ costumes evolve over the show (although this reviewer would have liked a little more organically located blood splatter on the shirt), where the story ones feel either too real or too costumey, existing in a weird midpoint that doesn’t feel like a clear choice.

The set was aesthetically beautiful, right down to the rust details on pipes and around filing cabinets. In the moments it opened up, the choice to leave it a starker white contrast was a good one, creating a clear point of difference between the ‘real’ and ‘story’ worlds. Lighting and soundscaping add hugely to this show, adding to the atmosphere, with a swinging pendulum light and clever use of candlelight. There are a couple of dark spots on the stage that the actors do dwell in at times, causing us to lose their faces, but nothing that’s overwhelmingly an issue. The width of the stage and set does a disservice to some of the scenes, however, decreasing the intimacy and the tension by giving the actors too much room to react. It also causes some sight-line issues, especially when the characters are at the interrogation table, as audience members towards the right end of the seating bank will lose the facial expressions of one or more characters. Some of the scene changes are also hampered due to the opening out of the set, especially in those involving the table being moved.

This show is a timely reminder of the power of words and language to propel others to action. A powerful play, not often seen, and done well by this small cast and creative team. A strong night out at the theatre, even with the heavy themes.

Samuel Ireland (Katurian) and Amber Gilmore (Topolski). Image provided by theatre company.

Reviewer Note: Kate has previously performed at the Hayman Theatre during FringeWorld 2023. Jack is a graduate of Curtin University, and has performed alongside a number of members of this company. Tickets for this review were provided by the theatre company.


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