Theatre Review - The Pillowman

Set in a nameless authoritarian state, Martin McDonagh’s provocative black comedy, The Pillowman, centres on the interrogation of a writer accused of murder.

Katurian (Lily Allen) is the author of 400 short stories, most of which involve the death and torture of children.

Hauled into a police station by Detective Tupolski (Steve Pemberton) and his sidekick Ariel (Paul Kaye), she is stunned when they claim her stories have caused copycat killings in town.

Is this true or just an attempt to intimidate Katurian into silence? Do her tales expose government tyranny?

Kaye and Pemberton build up Pinteresque menace and dark humour to great effect. Things get considerably darker when we realise that Katurian’s brother, Michal (Matthew Tennyson), a man with learning difficulties, is being beaten in a cell next door.

We learn of the pair’s childhood and how Katurian rescued Michal from parental abuse. She uses her stories to process trauma, but admits the experiences also fuelled her imagination as a writer. The suggestion being that pain is sometimes necessary to create art.

Michal’s favourite is a macabre tale about the Pillowman who encourages children to commit suicide. Katurian’s horror stories sprout from one another like Russian dolls. Eventually, she decides saving her work is more important than her life.

McDonagh touches on several themes including free expression, the silencing of critical voices, the manipulation of narratives and the persecution of writers on trumped-up charges, as well as torture and abuse – sadly as topical today as when the play was first produced in 2003.

I didn’t see the original production but something doesn’t quite hang together in Matthew Dunster’s revival. While inventive and well-acted, the play remains opaque and open to interpretation. There are some gripping scenes but too much is left unanswered.

Until September 2

Originally published by Westminster Extra