Theatre review: The Pillowman

Town Hall Theatre, Galway


Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman debuted in London in 2003, and the Royal National Theatre’s production was performed at Cork Opera House in 2005.

It is only now that the play gets a proper run here, thanks to Galway theatre company, Decadent.

Fortunately, the show has arrived in some style. Owen MacCarthaigh’s set design — which allows an ominous prison cell to shape-shift suddenly into a screen of memories and grim fairytales — is typically imaginative.

Meanwhile, the cast plunge themselves into McDonagh’s coldly real — and yet wholly surreal — netherworld of warped fairytales and fascistic terror.

The plot centres on a young writer, Katurian (Peter Campion), who is tortured by police detectives, after the horrific content of his stories replicates itself in real life.

From here, we are caught up in all sorts of mad and macabre twists and turns, as the police — and the audience — get to the bottom of a meta-fictional conundrum that takes in everything from severed toes to weirdly amusing ‘vehicular beheadings’.

This shifting, sinewy plotting, wedded to McDonagh’s provocative comedy and wordplay, provides a delicious treat, with David McSavage and Gary Lydon as interrogators putting in particularly enjoyable turns.

The fact that their humanity stands out, however, also points to the way in which the play’s writer protagonist is, ultimately, a bit too much of a cypher.

His story is central to the play, but it’s not always engaging. Campion does well to wrench out the life in him, but the character remains a little too stifled by his ‘writer-y-ness’.

Of course, thematically, The Pillowman is precisely about this — the writer’s self-extraction from the world — but the sense of distance it creates also occasionally impedes the play.

Runs in the Gaiety, Dublin, until March 14; Everyman, Cork, March 16-21; and Lyric, Belfast, March 24-Apr 19

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