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The Pillowman
Launceston Players
Earl Arts Centre


April 24th, 2024

The Launceston Players kicks off their 2024 in dark style, staging Martin McDonagh’s award winning black comedy, “The Pillowman” directed by Mitchell Langley at the Earl Arts Centre. Last seen in Launceston in 2010 (CentrStage dir. Robert Lewis), The Pillowman has held a tight loving embrace on the theatre community ever since, it’s title almost becoming theatrical vernacular for ‘greatest play of the 21st century.” “The Pillowman’ is an examination of censorship, artistic freedom, and legacy and these are dissected in the traditionally haunting, absurd, and extreme Martin McDonagh way.

Katurian K Katurian is an author of hundreds of fictional short stories, many of which have not been published, but most of which pertain to the grotesque murders of young children. When real life events implicate the author of these stories with the real-life murders, Katurian K Katurian is arrested and interrogated by two brash police officers, Tupolski and Ariel, who represent extreme examples of ‘Police Brutality.’ After some severe questioning techniques, Katurian discovers that his dim-witted brother Michal has also been arrested and is being held in an adjoining room, being prepared to be interrogated by the two police officers in a similar way. Katurian has to decide how best to protect his brother, in a situation that could have dire consequences for the two of them. It is Katurian’s responsibility to his brother, who he has protected for most of his life, to then decide between legacy or loyalty as to how he best defends his brother. The play is wrought with complex characters who twist and turn throughout the narrative, but ultimately are left to determine how a legacy should be remembered. With Love? Or Fiction?

Langley’s first-time direction of a major show, (his first major directing role since UTAS) is highlighted by some clever staging but is ultimately displayed through his love for the source material. A play with such dark themes and so graphic in nature is confronting for a contemporary audience, potentially even more today than it was back at the time of writing in 2003.  Langley directs the show without over glorifying the graphic scenes, but not shying away from them; without extreme prejudice against the use of racially charged language but acknowledging that times have changed. The show is handled with care, and each member of the ensemble have their characters examined with complex dexterity. The staging is for the most part, minimal and simplistic, but this serves the action when we switch between natural and surrealist storytelling.


Lyndon Riggall plays Katurian K Katurian in, what seems like a pattern, his first major onstage role in about fifteen years. Riggall is a fantastic storyteller, his background in writing helping this, and I found myself thoroughly captivated and engaged throughout every story that Katurian told the audience.  Riggall starts and ends the show strongly, his ability to play the tortured, nervous writer builds tension and sympathy toward him. However, I feel there were deeper troughs to plunder when it came to the more sympathetic scenes with his brother Michal. I wanted to feel more deeply, and I feel that Riggall could have possibly dug deeper into the well, to ensure the decisions he makes in those closing moments before interval are laced with more power and empathy.


Travis Hennessey as Tupolski and Lauchlin Hansen as Ariel struck the dynamic balance of good cop/bad cop with aplomb. There was a startling aggressive tension between the two of them (maybe the size difference may have also played into this slightly), but it ensured we as an audience were always kept on the edge of our seats about which direction their relationship, and their interrogation would go next. There were moments of black comedy that I think may have been underplayed or overplayed by maintaining the good cop/bad cop pattern throughout the whole show, however. A lot of McDonagh’s work is funny because of the absurd situation the characters are put into and the absolute intense “reality” of the characters portrayals. I feel that Hennessey and Hansen focused significantly on maintaining the good cop/bad cop dynamic, which meant when the two switch later in the play, some funny lines were missed because of that dynamic being maintained. I know that this dynamic can help to make the more uncomfortable content digestible, so I do understand why this dynamic may have been maintained throughout.

Jesse Apted plays Michal, Katurian’s ‘dim-witted’ brother and his biggest supporter his whole life, in more ways than one. Apted lends Michal an unexpected sweetness that enable the audience to be onside with Michal from moment one. Even as the scene between the two of them draws on and reveals more, there is a sympathetic tone drawn via the Michal lens, and that is down to Apted’s performance. The performance didn’t fall into the trap of stereotypical cliché and by finding that truth in a sedate way, it helped the audiences sympathies fall in line with the actions taken at the end of act one. We believe that the love shared between the brothers makes the ultimate decision between love and loyalty the only logical choice to make.

I do believe that all actors still have more in the tank that they could push themselves to go further in the coming days, just to ensure that their performances don’t stay too safe. I worry whether there was hesitance to dig as deep into the characters and performances as is possible, because of concern regarding the subject matter. I think by playing it safe, it undercuts the potency of a script about censorship, so I hope that the responses to the show give the actors the courage to push further into it.

The set design by Lily Amos and Mitchell Langley was enhanced during the more surreal storytelling moments, by creating a large storybook that opened and came to life, inhabited by the small ensemble cast of Michael Mason, Renee Bakker and Eva Cetti.  This story book design excited me, as it continued to evolve and surprise with its functionality and use. From its curtained back to enable cast to literally walk through the pages of the book, to the back lit moments of shadow work and the hidden compartments within; it was a truly intriguing directing choice. The staging of one scene in particular, “The Little Jesus”; mixed with Jeff Hockley’s lighting design, captured a compelling visual treat for the audience.

Overall, based on the size of the opening night audience, “The Pillowman” looks like it has been another success for the Launceston Players, and the love and feedback from around the auditorium, ensures that the reputation of ‘The Pillowman’ as one of the ‘21st Century’s greatest contemporary plays’ is still valid. What is important is to continue to push the boundaries within the theatre space, as ‘The Pillowman’ shows us, because a play about censorship, in a highly censored world, still has plenty to say, even when the things we have to say might not be what we want to hear. ‘The Pillowman’ runs until Saturday, don’t miss out.

Review By Matt Taylor

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