The Pillowman

The Pillowman

The Pillowman

St Patrick’s Day at the Everyman Cork saw the Irish premiere of The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. His plays confuse and confound people and this one, an early work, has the awful cruelty and dark humour with the twists in narrative that either disgust people or plunge them into an imaginative whirlpool. It gets its title from a version of a children’s story that McDonagh subverts into a scary ‘pillow over the face’ fear.

Once upon a time a playwright or a writer wrote about a bewildered man, Katurian K Katurian, who wrote about 400 short stories, many about the killing and abuse of children. He was imprisoned in a totalitarian state, with two brutish interrogators, bad cop and worse cop. Tupolski (David McSavage) and Ariel (Gary Lydon) torture him and his brother Michal, described at various times as ‘retarded’ and ’spastic’.

Once upon a play, the author and the writer made the director and the actors believe the story he was writing and they were telling. Audiences either believed the story or were suspicious or confused and might have felt they ‘knew’ what was ‘really’ going on. It is McDonagh’s masterstroke that the various ‘takes’ on the story have a strange and disturbing validity. Andrew Flynn, who directed for Decadent Theatre, brought insight and terror to the story and Owen MacCarthaigh designed a wonderful set, with scenic work by Ger Sweeney, who lived in Waterford for a while.

McDonagh subverts the process of telling a story – a once upon a time – the basis of narrative and make-believe and the audience, the reader, have to make decisions about reality and ‘theatrical’ reality. That is his achievement, especially the several stories within the play, where Peter Campion (Katurian) sits at the edge of the stage and five actors act out the tales, like Little Girl Jesus and A Green Pig. His brother Michal (Michael Ford-FitzGerald) adds to the stories. The other actors were: Jarlath Tivnan, Kate Murray, Peter Shine, Tara Finn and Rosa Makela.

David McSavage amazed me and he was so right for the part.

Nobody lived happily ever after. If they lived at all. This was the best of theatre. Telling stories.

Liam Murphy

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