Date: 7th June 2016

Venue: RS1

Reviewer: Florrie Taylor

Martin McDonagh’s fast paced and dynamic play was brought to life by budding duo Will Jarvis and Pip Sloan in Roborough’s RS1. McDonagh’s script is not an easy one, with dark subject matter, uncomfortable themes and perfectly executed comedy, it requires real skill to direct a cast of actors to realise the complexities within the text.

The cast handled the different paces within the script well, recognising when high intensity needed to be juxtaposed with moments of stillness and poise. The brotherly relationship between Katurian and Michal played by Mike Davies and Harry Heap was presented with sensitivity and care. Showing both to be intelligent actors, with an understanding of character trajectory, which I’m sure was aided by Jarvis and Sloan in rehearsals.

The characters of Tupolski and Ariel played by Katherine Lea and Toby  Grace are not easy to portray, with both characters going on two different journey’s throughout the piece, with constant attention needing to be paid to pace in order to ensure that their character plots come to fruition. Lea and Grace grappled with these difficulties well, working together throughout to reveal to the audience the workings behind their characters. Jarvis and Sloan’s interpretation of the printed text was creative and refreshing, they didn’t simply stage the text instead they pulled it apart, added in two new characters and put their own creative stamp on it. Expanding the cast of 4 to 6 was a gamble, but one that certainly paid off, those who don’t know the script wouldn’t have guessed that such a gamble had been taken. Which is a credit to Jarvis and Sloan’s confident manipulation of the text and their then direction of these two added characters.

Anna Blackburn and Amy Blakelock met the challenge of fulfilling these new characters, sitting amongst the audience and emerging from it to narrate the large sections of speech, originally written for the character of Katurian. The two girls worked well together and delivered their speeches with great intonation and understanding of what they were saying. Aesthetically, it would have been nice if both girls were in the same dress as this would have given more clarity as to who they were within the story and what their purpose was. Similarly, the choice to have them in ‘dead’ face makeup was one that didn’t read as clearly as it could have to the audience as it became confusing as to if they were narrators separate to the plot or if they were the dead children from Katurian’s stories. A little more clarity surrounding these characters would have given them more purpose and presence within the play as a whole.

The creative nuances throughout the piece were visually engaging and showed Jarvis and Sloan as directors that see beyond the text. The use of shadow particularly in the story of The Little Jew Boy was effective and drove home the grotesque nature of McDonagh’s text. If anything this could have been pushed further, really playing with the imagery that exists within the script. The creation of an actual Pillowman was great and gave a lot more meaning to the speech that accompanied his particular story. Again, more could have been made of his ‘presence’ throughout the piece to really heighten the depressing nature of his reality, simply having him activated throughout would have made such a difference, particularly when his younger self appears to him.

This was an ambitious piece, often I am sceptical of published texts in T3, however this interpretation was a pleasant surprise, which was engaging and exciting to watch. Congratulations to Jarvis and Sloan who evidently worked hard alongside the actors to ensure that McDonagh’s script was done justice. I look forward to seeing what this duo embark on next as it is clear that they work well together, manipulating scripts in order to produce a more individual creative version.