The overwhelming cognitive dissonance experienced by the audience during the 110 minute long The Pillowman, is indicative of the masterful handling of a plethora of difficult topics seasoned with slapstick, both by British playwright Martin McDonagh, and Director Shannon Miso. Without much of an ado, the audience was thrust headfirst into the action where Katurian, a fiction writer, is being interrogated. Fear for Katurian’s fate is soon replaced by surefire laughs from the audience, gradually segueing into nervous laughter followed by stunned silence. This dark comedy, the audience will eventually learn, is about to get a lot darker. Very Kafka-esque, the play is certainly not for the faint hearted.
The audience is not initially privy to the story of the ‘man in the hood’, whimpering in a drab cell. Gradually, as the story unfolds, we learn that Katurian is being interrogated with regards to a spate of gruesome child murders. Also being tortured is Katurian’s brain damaged brother Michal. At the mercy of two police officers intent on beating a confession out of them, Katurian and Michal, we learn that there’s more than meets the eye. As uncomfortable truths emerge, the audience is left to grapple with the increasing discomfort and guilt from having laughed at the gruesome bits. To say more would be to give away the essence of the play. However, what must be commended is the almost unblemished execution and handling of such a difficult topic by not only Miso, but especially her cast.
Miso appears to have taken creative liberties with casting - such as gender swapping certain characters - a move that certainly worked in her favour. Bimsara Premaratne (Tupolski) and Ashini Fernando (Ariel) essayed the roles of the cops, originally played by males. The younger selves of both Katurian and Michal were also played by female actors Swasha Perera and Tracy Jayasinghe. Without a doubt, the regendering of pivotal characters added dimension to the portrayals, and the actors played off each others energy - which bode well for the production. The relatively unfussy set and the 2D animation that accompanied the narratives added to the overall quality of the play without causing any distractions.
We caught up with the audience after the play. Here’s what they had to say.
The play was quite intense. The acting was very strong. The sequence of events was quite unexpected it kept me going. I actually didn't feel bored at all. It’s quite relatable as well and the characters, the events going on, are things that are happening right now and things that have to be spoken of and have to be brought to the limelight. It’s only through things like plays that we can address these issues. The duration was also good - it was not too long. Neither was it too short. It kept me on the edge of the seat. It was absolutely interesting. My favourite character, of course, was Michal, and Bimsara was my favourite female character because she did justice to the role. I would have liked Ashini to come out a little stronger than what she did because she is naturally a very female character. This is the first time I saw her so strong.
Well, it was creepy but really funny at the same time. So you don’t know whether to laugh or to be freaked out simultaneously. But it was very good and I thought the production was really good as well. I thought the actors were all very good, but in terms of the male character, I think Michal was very interesting. As for the female character - the young Michal. But they were all very good.
I thought it was very interesting, it was shocking. My favourite male character was the main character - the writer. I thought he was interesting. I thought the female characters were a bit aggressive, but it was cool to see that. Especially here. I thought both the detectives were both very good.
I honestly need like a couple of hours, a glass of wine and some dinner to process the play. I liked some parts of it. I was also a bit confused about most of the stuff. I think it was a different kind of scene and I liked the effects quite a lot. It was nice to watch something pretty tight. I think Yasas did a great job I thought and he was fantastic from the start. I think Tracy was also pretty cool playing Bimans alter ego.
It made me feel very uncomfortable but I think that was the point. So in that sense, it was effective. I think I need some time to kind of think about it and process it. Michal was my favourite male character. And I really liked Ariel.
I really liked it. It was very different. It’s not the usual type of thing that you get to see. It was very brave material, to say the least, and it touched on a lot of different aspects of reality I guess. Of course, it had a light side as well, but it was really good. Everyone did really well, I thought. Its difficult to pick my favourite male character, but ill have to say Biman who played Michal. Because it was so matter of fact for him. I actually liked Ashini, her arc was really good.
For me, I consider this play very very good. Practically everyone played their part very well and it was kind of a new experience in the context of things we are seeing at the moment even in English theatre in a unique way. Had a lot of substance, depth, everything. I would say it is a very good play. Both male characters were equally good, but the person who won my attention was Yasas, but that is not to say the younger brother was way behind. They were almost equal, but both were brilliant actors and did their roles very very well. From the females, all four played their roles in their chosen different styles very well. So you can’t compare one against the other.
I thought it was just marvelous. I have not seen this kind of brilliant production in a long time. Every one of them captured their roles well, and I found personally that the two girls roles - the detectives - I found these roles very very difficult for a Sri Lankan woman to play; this kind of aggressive role. And they played it to absolute perfection. I mean there might have been slight fault lines, but this is theatre, we always have small faults in theatre. And I really must say that I found the entire production very neat, very cleverly done and there was not even a moment where they came out of character. And that is what impressed me because this kind of acting doesn’t come naturally - you have to study it, more or less. I wish them luck and I wish more people would come for things like this. For favourite male character, it’s like you asked me which finger do I like more. They were both excellent. And for the women it’s the same. They all worked in pairs and they worked wonderfully together.
Pics: Waruna Wanniarachchi