The interrogating police officers in Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman ask some exceedingly graphic questions, and like the play itself, the journey to unravelling answers is abundantly confronting.
Dealing principally with stories focussed around the abuse and sadistic murder of children, the gruelling content challenges us not only because it is appalling in nature but also because of the self-reflective discomfort we feel in frequently being induced to laugh out loud.
This is a very funny play.
First produced in 2003 by the Royal National theatre, The Pillowman went on to receive an Olivier award for Best New Play and subsequent Tony Awards for production when it was staged on Broadway in 2005. With an impressive casting history featuring the likes of David Tennant, Jim Broadbent and Jeff Goldblum, this was McDonagh's first non-Irish play after a multitude of successes such as The Beauty Queen of Leenane (1996), The Cripple of Inishmaan (1997) and most recently, writer and director of the award-winning film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri.
Character insight, commentary and much of the alluring and unfolding web of The Pillowman is cleverly delivered via the stories of its central character Katurian. Arrested and interrogated by a menacing duo of cops in a totalitarian state, the fiction writer is pressed for his thoughts and potential connection to a series of gruesome child killings possibly inspired by the content of his own allegories.
The Pillowman is presented by the Patalog Collective and is the second venture of this clearly ambitious company after their debut production of Jez Butterworth's Mojo last year. Portraying the play’s central character, one cannot fail to be impressed to discover that Ben Walter is also the show’s producer. As Katurian, Ben brings a floppy haired poet like quality hovering always between twisted nut job and innocence. In scenes with his mentally slow brother Michal, beautifully portrayed with great depth, pathos and hilarity by Marcus Molyneux, we feel real connection in scenes reminiscent of Lenny and George in John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.
Self-commentary within The Pillowman is never clearer than via Tom Jones as ‘Good Cop’ Tupolski. This is a well-controlled standout performance that could easily topple into OTT in lesser hands but never does. As ‘Bad Cop’ Ariel, Mark Yates has invested heavily in back story and choices. A really interesting journey, again, disturbing in content and very well handled. Somewhere between dancer for Sia and Linda Blair is Lexi Kelsall providing, at times, upsetting real life form to some of the story characters.
A text of this nature directed without a very strong overall vision could easily slide into different territory, inappropriate and offensive come to mind, so serious congratulations to Vincent Attanasio for his incisive grip, particularly given this represents his directorial debut.
In times punctuated by the credibility of social media and news, an exploration of truth registered by the stories we tell is arguably even more alarming now than it was when the play received its first reading in the late 90’s. Feeling at times like a eulogy for a Handmaid penned by the mongrel of Thomas Harris and Aesop, The Pillowman is a fascinating play in the very capable hands of the Patalog Collective.
A play to see by a company to watch.
Patalog Collective presents
by Martin McDonagh
Director Vincent Attanasio
Venue: Chapel off Chapel | 12 Little Chapel St, Prahran VIC
Dates: 22 – 27 May 2018
Tickets: $38 – $28