Eduardo StrikePhotography: Francesca Bertoletti

“Pembroke New Cellars: Drama Ahead” says the sign on the door to see this week’s show, The Pillowman. And it does not disappoint.

Katurian Katurian Katurian is a short-story writer in for interrogation in an East German cell, but the bright table lamp at the back of the stage turns a blinding spotlight on the audience. Are we the ones who have questions to answer?

“Eduardo Strike and Lewis Thomas are astounding throughout”

The play revolves around his stories, and actors Eduardo Strike (Katurian) and Lewis Thomas (Tupolski, the first interrogator) are astounding throughout in their delivery of them. The oppressive interrogation atmosphere is compounded by these dark tales of child murder and by second interrogator Ariel (Louise Harris)’s ominous, bulldog-like pacing around the interrogation room.

Katurian cannot understand his arrest, fully convinced of the innocence of fiction writing. But when he is reunited ahead of their execution with his naive brother Michal who has special needs, touchingly played by Elliott Wright, the boundaries between fact and fiction start to melt away. Three children have been murdered in ways that are described in Katurian’s stories.

Sound effects are sparingly and intelligently used, heightening the drama of the off-stage torture and the tension of the most horrific of Katurian’s stories.

“Expertly performed by the cast”

Several scenes of shadow-play, flashbacks, and stories are expertly performed by the cast, and they are an astute directorial decision, blending in and out of the normal scenes, the way fact and fiction are inextricably entwined in real life. Michal’s simultaneous but subtle acting-out of the stories Katurian tells him is a powerful visual illustration of the impact of stories on behaviour.

Throughout, the audience is kept in a state of disorientation. Who can they trust? This is used to create several moments of brilliant dark comedy, most hilariously in Tupolski’s semi-improvised story illustrating his “worldview”.

The Pillowman is a complicated play, but director Alannah Lewis has eloquently handled it to tell a funny and disturbing tale which raises serious moral questions about the relationship between fact and fiction, the relative values of suffering for a lifetime over dying an early death, and the enduring meaning of writing as a way of leaving a trace on the world

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