'Black Comedy'. Two words that are almost certain to grab my attention. But far too often they are attached to something that turns out to be lacking in blackness or comedy - and frequently both. No such failings here, that's for sure. XLC's production of Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman" is as funny as you'd want it to be, and darker than is comfortable (which is exactly how it should be).
Writer Katurian finds himself in an interrogation room subject to some 'robust' questioning about the similarities between his gruesome stories and a series of child murders. In the next room his mentally damaged brother Michal is also being questioned about any involvement he may have had. What follows is a beautifully structured piece of theatre as we get glimpses of Katurian's writing along with elements from the brothers' childhood.
As Katurian, Kevin Mains transitions perfectly from confused to despairing but retains the character's quiet dignity throughout. It's a fully committed performance and the violence inflicted on the character has to take it's toll on the performer. As lead interrogator Tupolski, Richard Rankin gives a superb performance giving the character a smoothness which makes his playfulness all the more chilling. In contrast to Tupolski's calm control, the torture-happy Ariel is explosive, but Colin Harris effectively brings out the depth of the character. There's a dynamic amongst the three that I've been trying to put my finger on since seeing the show and it's something akin to watching Neo being doubleteamed by Morpheus and Agent Smith.
The middle of the three acts reunites Katurian with Iain de Caestecker's Michal and provides some of the play's funniest and darkest moments. Mains shines as we see him turn from suspect to interrogator while de Caestecker gives a genuinely childlike quality to Michal.
David Lee-Michael's direction impresses throughout with a great deal of creativity on display in realising the storytelling sequences. Two and a half hours is a long time to spend in the Citizens Circle studio so the decision to go with two short intervals was a welcome one and ensured the show never felt its length.
Thoroughly entertaining, thoroughly troubling. Great stuff.
Oh yes, a special mention for the way Colin Harris effectively dealt with the programme an audience member in the front row had inexplicably decided to place on the set's desk seconds before the start.
The Pillowman runs at the Citizens until Saturday 14th March.