It is always exciting to see a new theatre space – and creating a small studio area on the vast stage of the New Theatre is certainly a bold step on the part of the management. I am delighted to say that it is a risk that has paid off. It is a tight, tidy space with plenty of atmosphere and provides an intimate setting for Charlie Parker’s production of Martin McDonagh’s taut psychological drama The Pillowman.
Parker’s direction is particularly strong in the clarity of the storytelling – vital in this script which is heavily focussed on the nature of language and how we create narrative. She elicits strong performances from all of her actors and finds the right tone between the horrific nature of the events and the black humour that underlies all of McDonagh’s writing.
The two standout performances come from Richard Holt (Katurian) and Ashley Wilce (Michal). Holt is a master storyteller and sustains his long narrations with incredible finesse. Wilce gives an amazing portrayal of a young man struggling with his disabilities – a very moving and touching performances.
They are ably supported by Fraser Prince and Will Hatcher as the detectives. Both bring the necessary sense of threat tempered by their own flawed humanities. Lucie Cox completes the cast with a range of child characters all of whom are vividly drawn.
I hope this is not a one-off transformation for the New Theatre. Oxford is crying out for a studio space for enterprising and challenging theatre. If future productions can match the achievement of The Pillowman, it could be the start of something very special.