The Pillowman - Anonymous Review

SUTCo’s latest offering, The Pillowman, may well win an award for the most trigger warnings given in a show description. What it also deserves an award for, is its masterful direction and beautiful, thoughtful storytelling. Co-directors Ben Newman and James Gilson have handled this dark horror-comedy with a deft, clever magic that belies their years, and a suite of experienced and dedicated actors. Never to be outdone, production manager Stella Mackinnon’s tech team rise up to meet them with an innovative, immersive display of talent.

Each character in this twisted tale is fully fleshed, complex, well-constructed. Particular highlights for me included Polly Harley’s complicated Ariel and Maddie Farnhill’s Tupolski, whose sharp and swift rapport, delivered with precision and pacing, held much of the dark comedy of the show. Mention must go as well to Katie Kelson’s terrifying Mother, whose actions carried dreamlike fluidity and conveyed the uncomfortable, inescapable horror of her character. Completely believable, while completely storybook: perfection. And of course, our lead, Eleanor Wright’s Katurian, drove the plot fantastically, with a deft touch that brought out both the comedy and horror in her role throughout.

Use of shadows was the master stroke that brought this production together. So simple, but so effective – it has to be seen to be truly appreciated. The lighting designer who made this possible, Lizzy O’Leary, also showed her skills in the particularly impressive opening scene of Act 2, where the use of cues in quick succession (called by DSM Iz Potter with beautiful precision) added a whole new dimension to the audience’s experience of the story.

Throughout, this lighting came coupled with some of the best sound design I’ve heard from a SUTCo production, by designer Jack Goodison. Sound was used throughout the play to separate the real from the unreal, ‘reality’ from story, working seamlessly with the plot in a way that only careful, dedicated design can. Costume by Becca Wight, too, was carefully thought-out, down to the details of Mother’s hat, terrifyingly normal, and clever bloodying of Katurian. Saskia Dowley’s simple set was also effective, although it was hampered by small oversights – the exposed flight gallery in the first act, for example, really damaged the level of audience immersion; I was very glad when it disappeared behind a drape in time for Act 2. Nevertheless, this was but a small flaw in a production that was otherwise completely captivating.

The entire company should be deeply proud of this production. It exceeded all of my expectations, and sits firmly among my favourites of SUTCo plays. So clever, so well-thought out, so effectively delivered – a resounding success. See it.