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‘Pillows’: A study into how much teenage romance really sucks

TW- mentions of suicide & sexual violence

A small audience bumbling in their seats. A ceiling brimming with production team nerves. Two 20 year olds on a messy bed. ‘Pillows’ (written and directed by Sam Adlam) was performed in Alec Clegg theatre on July 27th. With the audience surrounding, the cast of two are laughing and talking, framed in a mattress draped in duvet and pillows. A fittingly personal staging, giving just a small insight to the intimacy yet to come.The forcing of spectators to look onto the lives of One and Two, alongside all other touching elements of the show seems to provoke the realization that ‘teenage romance’ lasts far beyond your 20th birthday. In one of the most intimate human settings, these two characters decide to break it off for good, after 5 long years of ambiguous dating.

The first take away from this show would be the explicitly honest nature of the writing. Due to the entirety of the 50-minute show being set in one conversation and one bedroom, a lot of the discussions held are detached and sparsely dotted around, bouncing back and forth between humor, misery and the occasional moment of love. This style comes across very naturally, and can at times be a bit too relatable. One could almost feel members of the audience cringing at various moments, where clearly it had struck a nerve from past love. Adlam writes with echos of Duncan McMillan’s ‘human-ness’, but with a more of a semi-musical rhythm to the words. Though perhaps this was more of a creative direction from himself and fabulous AD Naomi Poole.

Aaron Garland vividly embodies One, an insecure intellectual, that seems at times to be socially immature. On the flip side, and portrayed by the gorgeously subtle actor Eve Billington, Two is a quieter but effortlessly more confident character. Both the actors and characters compliment one another beautifully throughout, and as an audience member one feels oddly connected to them. There’s something about watching people getting dressed, screaming, or in tears. Seeing One and Two in their most intimate moments creates a one-sided association with audience members. Or maybe it was more the expert acting from Garland and Billington, and their clear deep relation to one another that pushed this. Both have moments of intense and fleeting hatred for the other. Screaming obscenities at one another contrasted with lightheartedly giggling and dancing to Black Country New Road’s ‘Concorde’ together, which concluded the performance. These actors work very delicately together, mischievously playing with fingers and romantic touches to the neck are sprinkled into the intense ups and downs of their break up.

Clearly emerging from a blunt mind, One and Two begin the end by discussing their current sexual relationship. Being open with their likes and dislikes, Two goes on to say how they believe One genuinely hates them. How in his eyes he looks like he wants to genuinely commit violent and gory acts against them. A truly scary way to start this performance, but fitting with the remainder of the dark, yet comedic script. From this, they begin to discuss their previous sexual freedom, naming shared friends and acquaintances one had slept with while the other tries (and fails) to stay relaxed. The unintentional jealously in One and Two pushes this performance onwards, even more so as they both casually go into explicit detail about who it is they’re attracted to, in both a purely sexual way and potentially more emotionally too. Although heartbreaking (and consistently uncomfortable) to watch, the security these two give one another, with an underlying knowledge it will soon be ripped away, is special. “People don’t talk about their future sexual exploits-“ “exploits?” “-during their breakups” It’s rare that one sees a show quite so long that continues to entertain and engage the whole way through. Through it’s the anti-chronological conversations, the brilliant portrayal of two young adults, and softly creative use of very little space (credit to producers May Harding and Sophie Apthorp) that impose a perceived essence of brevity to the show. Everything feels new, yet holds an unsteady familiarity. This entire show seems to beg the question, what is normal during a break up? It’s rare that these private moments are depicted so honestly, and that young writers, directors and producers are willing to be quite so obviously vulnerable with their such personal experiences. This is what makes the show so devastatingly relatable. The only thing I would ask of this show would be MORE. I wish at times that One and Two were both less apprehensive to physically touch the other. It seems this play craves more intensity to make the loving moments sweeter, and, the falls inevitably harder. I wish the opening and ending music was louder, overwhelmingly so. I wish the performance itself was longer. I wish I knew more about the lives of them both. It’s bittersweet that the performance lasts only 50 minutes, the condensed nature seems to make it all the more valuable.

‘Pillows’ written and directed by Sam Adlam and produced by Airborne Theatre will be performing at the Argyle Stage in Edinburgh from the 16th to the 27th of August. Tickets can be found here.

I couldn’t recommend it enough.


Words: Samantha Cook

Photo Credit: Abby Swain

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