Ben, James, Mia and Stella - The Pillowman Production Team
SUTCo's Week 3 show, The Pillowman, is Martin McDonagh's chilling exploration of child murder, authorial responsibility, and itchy arses. Spotlight talked to co-directors Ben Newman and James Gilson, producer Mia Young and production manager Stella Mackinnon to find out more. The Pillowman runs at the Drama Studio from 26th - 29th February 2020.
Ben and James are so in-sync they’ve decided to answer their questions together, like some kind of hive-mind. Why did you decide on The Pillowman?
BEN & JAMES: Both of us already knew the play, and we found that the unique combination of gallows humour and emotional content really struck us. We thought the play asked interesting questions about morality and responsibility and we wanted to explore that further.
And what gave you the idea of co-directing?
BEN & JAMES: As inexperienced directors we felt that collaborating on the show would allow us to bring our individual strengths together and create a piece of theatre worth sharing with people.
How have you both handled the script's dark and distressing subject matter?
BEN & JAMES: The dark and distressing content was something we were aware of from the first rehearsal, and tried to tackle sensitively and tactfully, cutting out anything we thought was too gratuitous.
Mia, you also produced last semester's Week 3 show, Female Transport. How has working on The Pillowman differed from your first time in the role?
MIA: I think producing is similar each time as you have the same goal. While it still has the same difficulties I felt more confident as I have done this before.
Did you face any particular challenges when promoting or funding the show?
MIA: In terms of challenges there was never a problem with raising the money. However, I wanted to make sure that all our sponsors had a very clear idea of the large amount of trigger warnings and the nature of the show in order for them to feel completely comfortable in agreeing to sponsor us. Luckily, none of our sponsors had any issues which is also down to the sensitive and considerate ways Ben and James dealt with the trigger warnings.
And what was it like working with two directors at once?
MIA: I don’t think it changed anything for me in terms of producing, however I have found it interesting to watch them in rehearsals as I have loved to see how collaborative this play is. Not only are they working with each other but also working with the actors, particularly in the physical theatre scenes, which has really paid off.
Stella, without spoilers, have you found many exciting technical opportunities in the show?
STELLA: Yeah there’s been loads of exciting technical opportunities! Especially considering that in proposals I kept saying that it was all going to be quite similar, but then both Lizzy and Jack came to us with all these amazing ideas and they’ve both done an incredible job!
Do you think tech has an important role to play in emphasising The Pillowman's disturbing qualities?
STELLA: I do think tech has an important role to play in emphasising the disturbing qualities - especially in the story scenes, the lighting and sound are both used to bring the stories to life in really cool and interesting ways.
And have you found it easy to manage and organise your designers?
STELLA: Yeah, the designers have been amazing. Lizzy and Jack in particular had all these amazing ideas that I could never have thought up and they just got on with everything. It’s made my job very easy.
Finally, a question to everyone, which is answered again like some kind of cult. What's been your favourite moment from the rehearsal period so far?
ALL: We did a joint one which is just to say that our favourite thing about the play was the combination of tech and acting. Scenes like ‘The Little Jesus’ physical theatre, the use of the gauze, or the train just really stood out to all of us!