Photo – Bob Seary
Detectives Tupolski (Peter McAllum) and Ariel (Jeremy Waters) are questioning Katurian Katurian (Oliver Wenn), whose middle name also happens to be Katurian, in relation to the horrific murders of three young children. Katurian has written over four hundred stories, most of which feature children that end up hacked to bits in one way or another.
The Pillowman is about the power of storytelling. Stories have the ability to shape both the writer and the reader. Katurian discovers this when his retarded brother, Michal (Michael Howlett), confesses to the murder of three children by acting out three of Katurian’s stories. Katurian also discovers that stories have the ability to shape their writer.
Black witted Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, is storytelling at its most hypnotic. We hear several of Katurian’s stories each utterly horrific, yet utterly compelling. You are left as traumatised as the children in these stories as you wait to see what happens next. We are reminded of the classic fairy tales times when children were abandoned by their parents and ended up in witches’ ovens.
In fact it was the Grimms fairy tales that gave him initial inspiration for the play. When retelling Red Riding Hood in 1998, he was captivated by the part where the Wolf’s belly was filled with rocks and sewn together with green wire. He aspired to write something that horrific himself. An early draft of The Pillowman was read in 1995 but it wasn’t until 2003 that it received its first production at London’s Royal National Theatre starring David “Dr Who” Tenant before going on to win the Lawrence Olivier Award for best new play in 2004.
Australia audiences will be familiar McDonagh’s work. He is a storyteller of considerable craft, albeit a sick one. The Pillowman was performed at Belvoir in 2008. Belvoir has also performed The Lonesome West and the infamous cat-splattering, limb hacking Lieutenant of Inishmore which had another production last year at NIDA. Add in his two feature films, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths and you’ll get some idea of McDonagh's gloriously twisted world view which suggests the Irish psyche is far darker than a pint of Guinness.
The second act falls down slightly, with Katurian insisting that his stories be saved after he is executed. This smacks of a young self-conscious McDonagh wondering if his own writing will ultimately amount to anything. Don’t worry Martin, we’ve all been there.
Director Luke Rogers, recognises that the strength of the piece is in the telling of the stories and opts for a simple naturalism. The set is a police interrogation room with desk and chairs. The cast use Australian accents and bring a genuine and convincing Aussie feel to the production. Peter McAllum is particularly good as Tupolski, the world-weary, flippant and sarcastic senior detective. Micheal Howlettt nails the role of Michal, capturing a naivety that makes the character all the more chilling.
At 2 hours 40 minutes this is a long night. Try and catch it though, as The Pillowman, contains some of the most hypnotic storytelling you’ll see on stage.
New Theatre presents
by Martin McDonagh
Director Luke Rogers
Venue: New Theatre | 542 King Street Newtown NSW
Dates: 16 March – 13 April 2013
Tickets: $32 – $17
Bookings: 1300 347 205 | newtheatre.org.au