Ciaran Bagnall – Lighting The Pillowman

Belfast’s Ciaran Bagnall provides a delicate, passionate account of why he is so proud to be working on The Pillowman and in the theatre industry.

I’ve been a Martin McDonagh fan for a long time. One of my first major “breaks” as a professional lighting designer was to light a production of The Cripple of Inishmaan at the Leicester Haymarket in 2003. Directed by Paul Kerryson it was the first time I’d ever heard of Martin’s work. I was hooked. I remember during rehearsals for Cripple heading into town on my lunch break to buy as many McDonagh plays as possible just to read them for my own enjoyment, an act I’ve yet to repeat for any other writer.

During this time and whilst singing his praises in some bar in middle England I heard the first rumors of his latest work. A move away from the Irish plays to a darker, colder climate. A totalitarian state. A play about child murders. A play with a bleak, dark…possibly hopeful, theme. The Pillowman. It was a few years before I finally got the chance to read it, and when I did it then sat proudly on my bookshelf. I made a promise to myself that I would someday do it.

So for a long time I’ve been discussing the play with numerous directors in numerous countries – in numerous pubs – and I can honestly say that I count my lucky stars that the chance came true with Andrew Flynn. As a personal friend of Martin, Andrew was able to give us a strong sense of the particular aesthetic that Martin was after for the piece. He kept us constantly grounded in the writing and Martin’s thoughts. We were all aware this was a rare and precious piece and one that meant a lot to everyone evolved.

I’ve never looked forward to working on something for so long – over ten years! Meeting Martin on the first day of rehearsals and listening to the cast read it was a dream come true as I had somehow managed to honor my own promise. This experience was then intensified as we progressed through the production period. It was incredible watching the rehearsals shape up, seeing the ingenious set, designed by Owen McCarthaigh, come together and hearing the wonderful sound score composed by Carl Kennedy.

For a long time I’ve often wondered why this play hits home with me so much. After watching the play open in Galway, Dublin and Belfast I think I have an answer. It is not a beautiful or eloquent answer but I believe it’s to do with the actual power of telling stories and the value we place upon our life’s work.

As a struggling designer living and working in London I was faced daily with the question to myself “why are you doing this?!!” I’d very little money, rubbish accommodation, no social life, no job security and I was listening to friends of mine, who had “proper” jobs, discuss their second holiday homes. I’d literally worn a hole in the sole of my shoes (something I thought only happened in cartoons) walking the streets because I couldn’t afford the tube.

Then one night it came to me. It was all about communication. I work in communication. My work is about communication, not in a mobile phone salesman type of way but in a way of one human ‘communicating’ with another; communicating thoughts, feelings, ideas, opinions via stories. We’ve been doing this since the dawn of time for a reason. It was important. It was worthwhile, worth the holes in my shoes, worth the lack of second or even first holiday home. And that was good enough for me.

I’ve never questioned my decision to pursue a job in Theatre since. For me there is no other medium like it to tell a story. To gather people together in a room, turn the lights down and tell them a story. So to have a play written not only from the point of view of a writer but a play about stories is perfect…and important.

“Stories can be either bacteria or light: they can infect a system, or illuminate the world”

Ben Okri

 Ciaran Bagnall is the lighting designer of The Pillowman. Decadent Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed production of The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh plays the Lyric Theatre Belfast for 4 weeks. If you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy Owen Barnes’ piece on Martin McDonagh’s Anglo-Irish roots or his investigation into Six Shooter’s existentialist roots.

24 March 2015 – 19 April 2015
Tuesday – Saturday 7.45pm, Saturday & Sunday Matinees 2.30pm
Previews: Tues 24, Weds 25 and Thurs 26 March 7.45PM

Blog originally published by Decadent Theatre Company