It’s never an encouraging sign when you start to a wish that a play would hurry along or, as I did, nearly doze off. There is potential for The Pillow Man to be a compelling theatrical experience, as amply demonstrated by the numerous awards it has garnered in other productions. However the performance that I attended at the Little Theatre proved to be disappointing.
McDonagh’s play centres around the figure of Katurian, a writer living in
a fictional totalitarian state who has come under suspicion of committing a number of child murders due to the startling resemblance they bear to the ones that figure prominently in his short stories. The play poses probing questions about concepts of narratives and reality; interrogating
the human compulsion to use stories to shape and frame our existence, the ambiguous delineation between fiction and reality, the uncertainty and instability of truth and meaning. The grisly tales of Katurian form the core around which the play revolves.
At the beginning of his interview with two detectives Katurian repeatedly protests that his stories mean nothing, that he has nothing to say: ‘I just tell stories’ yet it becomes increasingly apparent as the play progresses that Katurian’s narratives exert a far more potent influence than his initial denial may have suggested. The play seems propelled by the urge to interpret events through a narrative, reflecting the way in which people seek stories as a means of understanding and shaping their experiences; we see this reflected in how at the very end of the play after the final action, the main character returns to retell the previous minutes, as if to suggest that the event only becomes real once it has been shaped into a narrative.
The Pillow Man appears to be a play that tackles its subjects with impressive sophistication and complexity, however much of this is negated by the productions amateurish and clunky interpretation of the work. Small errors included the cliched ‘portentous’ music pumped out of the speakers before and after every scene, while larger ones revolved chiefly around the quality of acting. Crimes included an overly mannered and melodramatic performance from Katurian, ‘Acting’ as opposed to just
‘acting’. Especially grating were his frequent, false sounding sobs, which I began to tired of five minutes into the performance. Much of the interaction between all of the cast seemed stilted and unbelievable, in particular the relationship between Katurian and his brother, Michael. However, the production did exploit the rich vein of heavy dark humour that The Pillow Man is liberally doused with. The more successful moments of interaction between the actors and better moments in the play overall
occurred during the blackly comic banter between the two policeman .
A more professional and accomplished production would have made better work of Mcdonagh’s play.