Written by Martin McDonagh, The Pillowman is a chilling work that explores the tension between author and authority.
Set in a fictional police state, the writer Katurian (Jess Newman) is interrogated for the grotesque content of some of his fictional stories. The two detectives, Tupolski (Josiah Lulham) and Ariel (Ross Dwyer) link his stories with a series of unexplainable child murders that have been occurring throughout the city.
The audience watch the from all four sides of t a square room; all that separates the actors and the spectators are four walls of thin black scrim, through which the action is seen. The space (Off the Kerb) transforms as the audience are invited into the next room, another cell in which Katurian’s psychologically impaired brother (Josh Orpin) is also being held. The space is simultaneously claustrophobic and exposed, a strange paradox that matches the quality of McDonagh’s writing, which is an unforgiving mix of comedy and tragedy.
The performances are also strong, from the apprehensive Katurian and his stories to the hilarious but strong-minded Tupolski. There is a great amount of dynamic interplay between the characters and a sense of lightness to the work that is often missed in productions of McDonagh’s texts. However, there were a few moments in which the comedy of the work was hidden by the tragic subject matter, rendering it more of the tragedy than a black comedy. But this is difficulty of McDonagh’s work – comedy and tragedy balances on the edge of a knife – and mostly its comedy elements rang true.
The Pillowman is an exploration into the ability of fiction to become reality. It is a powerful evocation of how “the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves” fuel our shared reality. Performed by a strong cast, with a superb overall design, the work brought together the string of themes in the original text and weaved them into an intricate and complex web, and a provocation that resonates with our contemporary reality.