In Conversation With: Charlie Prothero, Director of The Pillowman

The director of NUTS' The Pillowman joins us for an intimate chat.

Tom Wrath
21st March 2022
Image: Facebook @Newcastle University Theatre Society (NUTS)

What were your primary motivations for choosing The Pillowman?

It’s been one of my favourite plays for ages, and I love Martin McDonagh's work. We tried to get the rights for it last term but didn’t manage, so here we are!

Having starred in Stags and Hens last term, and now actually directing your director, have you been able to bring any acting experience into your directing?

It’s a bit of a powerplay (laughs). No seriously, being an actor then directing helps because you know how you’d like to be directed yourself. I like to write short films, a lot of two people talking in a room and being sad- which is very Martin McDonagh- in which you kind of have 5 minutes to shoot, whereas I have more time on projects like this. This is the first time I’ve directed and I’m absolutely loving it!

How is your cast coping with such a dark play?

Really well, considering it’s a very very dark play, with lots of content warnings. The subject matters are quite intense, but it deals with them in a way that’s surprisingly sensitive; McDonagh often gets compared to Tarantino, but his writing has a real beautiful sensitivity to it, masked with dark humour. Everyone’s been working super hard to get to grips with this, which is lovely to see.

What sort of directorial techniques have you used to bring out the best in your cast?

My mate recommended Mike Alfreds' Different Every Night that I’ve used to guide me, using lots of improvisational techniques such as actors stating the action rather than the line and lots of chasing each other around the room. I prefer character work, so I’ve also bought in lots of Mike Leigh influenced stuff.

Especially for a play like this which has lots of loaded dialogue, trying to get 3 people to sit in a room feel like a real battle has been difficult. It’s been hard work because we’ve only had a few weeks to prepare, but it’s going to be a fantastic play, and hopefully, all the weird exercises are paying off.

And how are you finding the venue?

The play is taking place at Newcastle Arts Centre, which is a very intimate and liminal space. In terms of set design, we’ve gone for a very minimal set, probably coming from the complexity and stress of putting together the Stags and Hens set (haha).

In three words, what can audiences expect?

See for yourself; they’re not my three words by the way (laughs). I’d probably say dark, humorous and emotive.

Finally, what does NUTS mean to you?

I’ve been acting for a while in amateur dramatics stuff, but to come to uni not knowing anyone and instantly finding a family and community is amazing; however cheesy that sounds.  It’s a fantastic network of like-minded people striving towards an end goal to produce great theatre.

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