A complex exploration of the power of literature and the psychological impact stories have on the reader is not necessarily the type of output you’d expect from a university drama society.

Set in a totalitarian world, ‘The Pillowman’ by Martin McDonagh finds the lead character, fiction writer Katurian, interrogated by police about the content of his work after a series of brutal child murders bear a striking resemblance to the content of his short stories. It is a surprising choice for the University of Salford’s Almost Famous Theatre Company, but they’re eager to stretch themselves creatively.

The Pillowman

“If something is just slapstick fun, its fun but it’s not something I’d watch seriously. Whereas this is something that provokes thought and makes you think about all these things that actually do happen. And I think it [theatre] should be more like that” explains Iain Snell, 19, who directs along with Hayley Graham, 19, and both study Media and Performance. Hayley concurs; “This entire thing makes you feel uncomfortable but I think because these things do happen it’s stupid to think that theatre should be all jazz hands and happy stuff because the world isn’t all happy stuff”.

English and Journalism student, Bethany Gregson, 22, tackles a role that has been gender swapped for this production, the part of Michaela. Katurian’s elder sister, Michaela, is “slow to get things” as a result of years of abuse at the hands of her parents. Bethany was prepared for the difficult psychological undertaking playing this character required; “It’s been fairly difficult, especially with the kind of issues that Michaela has, staying on the right side of respectful. From other characters there’s a lot of ableist comments but it’s something that you have to remind yourself that this [the play’s setting] is this very brutalised society and those words are commonplace”. During rehearsals the cast have had to go to some dark places and walking the line between finding the reality without carrying it home has been difficult; “You have to remind yourself that it’s a character, it’s not you, it’s not your friend saying that to you. It’s definitely something that you have to try and separate from without emotionally separating from it”.

During rehearsals the cast have had to go to some dark places…

The fact that the cast have had different University journeys and aren’t all studying performing arts is something that adds a different dimension to the production, says Hayley; “It’s really cool actually that you get people from all different walks of life, because if you’re all on a drama course you’re all aiming for the same thing it can get a bit same-y. With this you get people that are zoologists, scientists, all sorts and I think those life experiences actually inform their performances”. Iain agrees; “You quite often find that people who aren’t on a performance course really, really go for it because this is their only chance”. If ‘The Pillowman’ is well received it hopefully means more challenging work will follow for Almost Famous in the future something that Bethany is keen to emphasize; “It really takes us in a different direction as a theatre company”.

The Pillowman is at Salford Arts Theatre 25th  – 27th May.

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