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PILLOWS BY SAM ADLAM: ‘Utterly charming and unequivocally human’

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

Written by Tallulah Roberts

On a seemingly regular Wednesday afternoon, stage@leeds’ Alec Clegg Theatre was transformed into a seemingly regular student bedroom for a performance of Sam Adlam’s new one act play ‘Pillows’. Set around a cloud-like bed of cushions and blankets, Eve Billington and Aaron Garland play two university students trying to navigate their magnetic yet infuriating connection.

Billington and Garland work beautifully together to portray Adlam’s flawed lovers. From seductive smirks and teasing jokes to fiery I-love-you-so-much-I-hate-you outbursts, every interaction they share feels genuine. Billington commands the space with a buzzing energy: they are here, there and everywhere across the stage, but never once does it feel their movements are fidgety or without purpose. The anxious fiery rage they generate in the play’s more confrontational moments rarely feel melodramatic, especially when balanced with the character’s charming tangents about the philosophies of the great, wide world (and Adam Sandler movies). Billington’s character is endearing yet frustrating to watch and listen to at times, yet they handle these opposing traits with true skill. Both actors are superb, but Garland really stands out as a master of naturalistic acting. His relaxed and laid-back manner is impressively authentic – it feels as if he is not acting at all. Even in his character’s moments of anger, Garland remains controlled in his performance, delivering in both vocalisation and physicality convincingly and never once teetering on the verge of melodrama. This unwavering authenticity is something that I have seen few actors pull off so successfully, and Garland’s performance in ‘Pillows’ is a true testament to his talent.

All photo credits to Abby Swain

As well as Billington and Garland delivering excellent performances in the play’s more emotional scenes, the pair have to be commended for their comic execution also. As a young writer writing for young people, Adlam clearly has a sense of what his audiences relate to and are endeared by, which is only enhanced by the skill of his actors. They tease one another in the way most real couples do, and this familiar, cosy sense of humour works in the play’s favour. Amongst even the more tender or heated scenes, there are gems of humour thrown about that make the characters feel inherently human – after all, if we don’t laugh, we’ll cry, no?

It would be wrong to go through this review without mentioning the creative team behind ‘Pillows’. Sam Adlam’s script is pretty masterful. When a play is merely an uninterrupted conversation between two actors, there is a risk of it being a rather mundane 45 minutes, but ‘Pillows’ is anything but. The script flits between snappy exchanges and intense, emotional rants that keeps audiences engaged throughout. Adlam’s dialogue generates such a convincing intimacy between the characters that, at times, I felt almost uncomfortable, as if I was eavesdropping on the vulnerable conversations being had. As aforementioned, the humour is clever, witty and familiar, not to mention being intertwined with countless pop culture references that further highlight Adlam’s understanding of what will be well received by his audiences. Along with assistant director Naomi Poole and shadow director Harriet Ormsti, Adlam has used the thrust stage effectively, and sightlines are good from most angles (I even sat myself in what I thought would be a bad seat, but this directing team couldn’t be caught out!) Producers Sophie Apthorp and May Harding have curated a strong aesthetic for the play, with dreamy, ethereal colour palette of both set and costume grounding the play in an almost floating, liminal setting. All in all, the production is a credit to the whole team.

I think it’s fair to say I very much enjoyed ‘Pillows’. There is clearly thought behind every detail of the play that makes it utterly charming and unequivocally human. It has heart, it has edge, and it has a raw honesty that makes it a must-see for every 20-something human trying to figure out their place in the world.

‘Pillows’ runs at Edinburgh Fringe from the 18th-27th August in the Argyll Theatre at theSpace on North Bridge.

Get your tickets here

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