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The Pillowman

by Martin McDonagh

New Wolsey Studio

Martin McDonagh’s works are renowned for their dark nature and violent disposition and The PIllowman does not deviate from this pattern.

Overwhelmingly, the message conveyed is one of how our all-important childhood events shape our adult lives. In the case of the detectives, their experiences have led them to seek to rid the world of criminals committing evil against children. In the accused’s case (Katurian’s), his damaged childhood has led him to include violence towards children in his writing, writing which tragically was acted upon by the curiously abnormal.

Tension is apparent from the outset. Set in a totalitarian state where worryingly any rules may apply, Katurian is brought in initially blindfolded and nervously rambles on, unaware of why he is in custody. The overbearingly arrogant and bullying interrogation by Detective Tupolski makes Katurian defend his writing –“I’m not saying anything.” Youthful, inexperienced policeman Ariel is like a petulant terrier, spoiling for a scrap and uses uncomfortably physical methods to extract a confession. Katurian recounts ‘one of his best tales,’ “The Tale of the Town on the River,” which made me wince at the end. He is then told that his brother in the next door cell has confessed to two murders carried out along the lines of two of his stories and that the evidence lies on the table before him. Katurian resigns himself to save his opus which seems to be of paramount importance.

Reunited with his brother Michal, Katurian recounts the tale of The Pillowman who saves children from horrible futures by convincing them to commit suicide. The Pillowman revisits Katurian in his head at the end of the play but is unsuccessful in his attempt to convince Michal. Katurian ends up smothering his brother (with a pillow) to save him from execution.

The relationship between the two policemen is argumentative and further put under pressure when Katurian cleverly deduces that Ariel has a past which has influenced his involvement in crime. Ariel clearly does not want this revealed to Katurian. “You have something in common,” Tupolski states. This leads Ariel to have empathy for Katurian and save his treasured work at the end. We also witness Ariel’s detective powers maturing in the course of the play.

The Pillowman is thought-provoking and gruesomely reminds us of actual crimes committed by murderers whose minds had become twisted by shocking media and subsequently acted them out. The police are also not spotless individuals. Lives touched by horror are to be pitied as they are disturbed and the only way out according to this play is through death.

The audience were clearly appreciative of the excellent performances of this greatly talented, youthful cast, tittering at the black humour and of their masterful direction as the play received a partial standing ovation. This is an evening to be commended but not to everyone’s taste in its subject matter.