Culture Writer Frankie Rhodes reviews a moving touring production of Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Spendid SunsWritten by Frankie Rhodes on 17th May 2019
Infinity Stage Company Presents: ‘The Pillowman’
As a huge fan of Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges, when I found out that he had written The Pillowman, I knew to expect great things. However, nothing could quite prepare me for Infinity Stage Company’s production.
The Pillowman follows Katurian, a writer in a nameless, totalitarian state, who is being interrogated; someone has been acting out the child-murders that feature in his stories, and detectives Ariel and Tupolski think that Katurian is obviously to blame. To add more drama to this already tense atmosphere, the detectives have also arrested Katurian’s brother, Michal.
The play is full of black humour, and it needs it: the audience is faced with vivid stories of murder and child abuse, and plot twists are rife. Jack Toop managed most of the comedy, playing the endearingly unaware Michal with such depth that sounds of genuine sympathy were emitted from the audience. (I must also applaud Toop for his ability to stay hidden under a duvet for a significant amount of the first half.)
The cast in its entirety were fantastic. The ensemble, consisting of Lily Blacksell, Tyler Harding and Cassiah Joski-Jethi, handled their varying roles particularly well. Joski-Jethi was eerily convincing as a child, her movements and expressions capturing the essence of childhood. Blacksell and Harding played two different sets of parents, and yet brought completely altered mannerisms to the roles. They were particularly frightening in their roles as the foster parents of the ‘little Jesus girl’: Blacksell was discomfortingly creepy, whilst Harding added depth to his character through anger.
Hannah Aldridge’s Tulposki didn’t quite hit the mark at first; at times, the interpretation of the lines felt a little misguided and, when compared to the performances of other cast members, there simply didn’t seem much depth to the character. However, Aldridge really shone in the second half of the play; she seemed more comfortable, her delivery was better, and Tupolski became a real person – not just a character.
Peter Dewhurst quite simply brought Ariel to life. He seemed to know his character thoroughly, making Ariel so much more than a typical detective. He completely embodied Ariel, so that his character’s traumas almost seemed like his own.
However, the man who stole the show was Ben Norris, playing the protagonist, Katurian. Norris handled the character’s swings from fear, love, anger and devastation with pure skill, and particularly showed an aptitude for storytelling. He could completely hold the stage on his own, but the most memorable scenes of the play were those between himself and Toop. They captured the love and bond between brothers in a touching, affectionate way, and yet still managed to show the underlying tensions that often exist between siblings.
The cast made excellent use of its minimal props; the sparsely covered stage only added to the coldness of the totalitarian state, which was slightly warmed by a single desktop lamp in Ariel’s final act of kindness.
Let’s not forget McDonagh’s script, though. It is, quite frankly, superb. Intelligently blending horrific circumstances, histories and stories with humour, the audience is taken on an emotional journey – one that is (almost) three hours long, in fact. When the first half ends, the audience is so emotionally drained that they cannot comprehend experiencing the second half. However, it is a credit to this production’s cast and crew that the audience returned, was completely captivated for the next hour, and congratulated them with a standing ovation.