Skip to content

Port Alberni’s Portal Players get dark with ‘The Pillowman’

Black comedy opens at the Capitol Theatre on Friday, May 10

In a totalitarian state, a fiction writer is brought in for questioning about a series of child murders that resemble his stories. Is this life imitating art, or something more sinister?

So begins the latest production from the Portal Players Dramatic Society in Port Alberni, a drastic departure from their usual fare. While the last few shows at the Capitol Theatre have been lighthearted comedies, the Portal Players will offer something very different with The Pillowman, opening on Friday, May 10.

The Pillowman is a play by Martin McDonagh, a British-Irish playwright, screenwriter and director most recently known for the Academy Award-nominated 2022 film The Banshees of Inisherin. McDonagh’s stories usually contain absurdist black humour, and The Pillowman is no exception.

It tells the story of a writer named Katurian (played by Cydney Pedersen) who is arrested and interrogated by two detectives (played by Darien Edgeler and Brendan Rice) about a spate of murders that bear similarities to his gruesome short stories.

The play is “very dark” says Portal Players director Nicole Foster, and minors will not be allowed entry to the Capitol Theatre without adult supervision. Audiences can expect vulgar language, violence and mentions of suicide, rape and murder.

“It’s not a pretty face,” Foster acknowledged. “There’s not one good person in this play. But the world isn’t full of good people.”

The show asks a lot of important questions, says Foster, about why we tell stories and who is responsible for them. It examines the role of the artist in society and the price we pay for freedom of expression. Foster says she first saw a production of the play back in 2011.

“I was in my third year of theatre school and I was really falling out of love with theatre,” she said. “The Pillowman renewed my love of why we do theatre. It’s not for everyone, and it can be uncomfortable, but sometimes it’s important to step outside your comfort zone.”

In some ways, the show is sparse—it is set almost entirely in an interrogation room and features only five characters. But there is also some “really extensive” behind-the-scenes work, says Foster. There will be puppet shows, prop guns and even some fire.

The show is produced by Liane Fitzpatrick and other actors include Bella Paragallo and Scott Lemkay, who both recently appeared in the Portal Players’ production of Calendar Girls. For Lemkay, especially, the show is a departure from his previous repertoire—he has only performed in two shows with the Portal Players so far, both of which have been comedies.

“What he’s been able to do with his character, it’s just been phenomenal,” said Foster. “All the cast have been phenomenal. But Scott has really put the work in and it’s been beautiful to see.”

The Pillowman will be the Portal Players’ entry in this year’s North Island Zone Drama Festival, which is taking place in Port Alberni from May 20-25. Foster says the play lends itself well to a festival because it isn’t afraid to ask questions.

“It makes you think,” she explained.

The Pillowman opens at the Capitol Theatre on Friday, May 10 and will also run May 11, 12, 16, 17 and 18. All shows are at 7:30 p.m. and doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at or at the box office on Monday and Thursday (4-6 p.m.).

Elena Rardon

About the Author: Elena Rardon

I have worked with the Alberni Valley News since 2016.
Read more