Theatre Review: The Pillowman

“You’d be a fool to miss this rich glimpse into a future of foul language, fouler deeds, and despicable darkness.”

The Pillowman

February 24, 2012

Archway Theatre, Horley

The Archway Theatre served up a delightfully sinister treat on Friday 24 February with a darkly comic performance of Martin McDonagh’s harrowing tale ‘The Pillowman’.

With intriguing manipulation of the limited stage space available, Chris Dangerfield’s production allowed the talented actors space to breathe and inhabit their roles – a success given that the majority of the play is set in an interrogation room within a totalitarian dictatorship.

The play centres around the fate of Katurian (Jerrard Moore), who is hauled into an interrogation room with no clues to his crime (save for a box of his stories), and his brother Michal (Trefor Levins), who is described as “slow to get things”.

Katurian is interviewed by detectives Tupolski (Gary Andrews) and Ariel (Matt Henry), who take on the standard ‘good cop/bad cop’ dynamic initially. While it appears Katurian’s crime may be in hiding subversive political messages within his writing, the story begins to take a more sinister turn; after a number of strikingly similar child killings in the area, we are left to face the uncomfortable issues of torture, suicide, child abuse, and murder, with the past unravelling in a chaotic manner for all involved, with Katurian and Michal’s relationship tested to the limit.The acts are intercut with wonderfully anarchic sequences from Katurian’s tales, providing a counter-balance to the stark banality of the interrogation room, and emphasising the importance, and dangers, of power of the imagination.

The core strength of the production is that while dealing with horrific issues, the rapid, natural flow between the actors, had many in the audience howling with laughter. The first act works exceptionally well as a comedy of errors, full of repeated lines, double meanings, and comic misunderstandings, and this was in no small part due to the performances from the talented cast.

In particular, Henry as Ariel delivers a fantastic lesson in barely suppressed rage, yet he lent the role enough humanity and humour so that we could understand, and even side with, a foul-mouthed, violent puppet of the state. If anything, the playful Tupolski – handled expertly by Andrews – is the truly terrifying figure, full of empty smiles and delusions of grandeur that seem to thrive within a dystopian society, revelling in his role as judge, jury and executioner.

Moore inhabits the role of Katurian passionately, particularly in the helpless, apologetic nature with which he pre-empts accusations of ulterior motives in the face of oppression, looking every inch the leftist writer he appears to be being accused of. Levins provides the comic relief as Michal, but also, ultimately, the most harrowing, moving moments of the play. Levins’ exposition of Michal’s deeds is devastatingly frank, with his sudden mood swings wildly giving the character plausibility, while the supporting cast handle the back-story with a wonderfully macabre humour that fits the nightmarish sequences perfectly.

One criticism would be that the interval seemed a little too late in coming, and the play felt a tad disjointed as a result – the tight, taught dialogue would perhaps benefit from being delivered in smaller chunks, and for such a grisly tale, there’s little in the way of gore. However, if you’ve enjoyed anything from The Handmaid’s Tale to Hansel and Gretel, you’d be a fool to miss this rich glimpse into a future of foul language, fouler deeds, and despicable darkness.

Sleep tight.


Katurian:           Jerrard Moore

Tupolski:           Gary Andrews

Ariel:                 Matt Henry

Michal:              Trefor Levins

Mum and Dad:   Mandy Humphrey and Mark Bell-Chambers

Girl/Little Jesus/Young Micha:     Erin Cornell

Young Katurian/Blind Man:          Tom Robinson


Director:            Chris Dangerfield

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3 Responses to Theatre Review: The Pillowman

  1. Mark Bellchambers says:

    One word. No hyphen. Mark x.

  2. Matt Henry says:

    Thanks for the review mate, glad you enjoyed it, some very kind words.

  3. tomjdoyle says:

    Thanks Matt, great performance! Keep up the good work.

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