The Pillowman | Evening Standard Nov 14 2003
Martin McDonagh, master of bad taste in black comedy’s cause and persistent enfant terrible, leaps
towards maturity in this dazzling, disquieting nightmare of a play which makes up its own Grimm fairy-tales. Laughter is regularly
aroused in John Crowley’s superlatively acted, restrained production.
Tennant’s wonderful, emotionally wracked performance as Katurian, desperate for his stories to survive
his death, conveys the essence of McDonagh’s dark vision of police state machinations.
The Pillowman | Daily Mirror Nov 14 2003
Every now and then you encounter something you know you will never forget as long as you live…
The great Jim Broadbent plays cruel, corrupt detective Tupolski in a totalitarian state. He provided moments
of humour in the darkest stage production I have seen.
The Pillowman | Daily Mail Nov 14 2003
The outstanding David Tennant.
John Crowley’s production delivers McDonagh’s rough-house, disturbing wildness supremely well.
Brace yourself for a play of extraordinary power and stunning theatrical bravura.
The Pillowman | Telegraph Nov 14 2003
David Tennant superbly captures the feverish self-absorption of the writer. Jim Broadbent and Nigel Lindsay
make a terrific double act as the cops, every bit as sinister and comic as they should be.
The Pillowman | The Times Nov 13 2003
Altogether an unnerving but provocative evening.
The Pillowman | The Observer Nov 16 2003
Stomach-churning and wildly comic, The Pillowman is Martin McDonagh’s most disturbing work to date.
The brilliant, wavering Adam Godley.
What makes it soar is a brilliant, mythic imagination.
This is a riveting
The Pillowman | The Sunday Telegraph Nov 16 2003
His other strong card is black comedy, and there are quite a few laughs, above all thanks to Jim Broadbent’s
full-bodied performance as the senior policeman. David Tennant is excellent as Kaurian; Adam Godley’s agitated Michal
is a tour de force.
The Pillowman | The Financial Times Nov 16 2003
A complex tale about
life and art, about fact and illusion, about politics, society, cruelty and creativity.
David Tennant has never been better than as this febrile, wry, not-quite-heroic Katurian; that staggeringly
versatile actor Adam Godley brings off brother Michal as backward and canny, appalling and touching; Nigel Lindsay and Jim
Broadbent catch to perfection the hilarious coarseness of authoritarian brutality, like a duo out of Dickens.
The Pillowman | Metro Nov 17 2003
John Crowley’s production supplies the sure, merry-macabre tone the piece needs, with superb turns
from all four leads.
This is a deeply felt piece of work as well as an outrageous one; a delve into the amoral imperatives of
story telling that asks its audience to find their own response. The sickest, saddest, funniest show of the year.
The Pillowman | The Mail on Sunday Nov 23 2003
An extraordinary play.
It’s Kafkaesque, Pinteresque, but more then anything absolutely McDonaghesque;
blacker, more crazily comic, more shocking and almost as tasteless as Jerry Springer the Opera.
Hauntingly, horribly entertaining.
The Pillowman | The Independent Sunday Nov 23 2003
McDonagh’s invention of a new comedy-horror genre and his virtuoso technical skill leaves most playwrights
gasping. He can whip up character in seconds, thrill with lashings of violence and twist a plot and an audience round his
little finger. He’s like a dazzling theatrical conjuror spinning out misanthropic versions of Tales of the Unexpected
minus the whirligig theme tune and for those with strong stomachs it’s horribly watchable.
The Pillowman | The Sunday Times Nov 23 2003
Captures the imaginative dazzle of childhood stories.
The stories McDonagh has created to match Katurian’s childhood traumas are genuinely startling –
a Pied Piper warped out of tune, a trip-like Three Little Pigs, a tale of father-daughter vengeance as visceral as Little
Red Riding Hood – tales that aren’t so much unexpected as a magnetic continuation of European folklore.
The darkest moments are as unsentimental as the best fairy tale, making jokes about the unthinkable. It’s
an attraction-repulsion dynamic.
The language is dizzying – not only are the stories woven with a real mythic power, the comedy is
effortless, a brash delight in saying the unsayable combining with subtle Pinteresque flourishes that pitch the audience into
Broadbent is priceless as Tupolski, his Punch-and-Judy face elegantly deadpan, his on-a-dime menace profoundly
unsettling. Lindsay, meanwhile, is the brutal yet complex Ariel, a “bulldog” with an instinctive understanding
of the writer and his overwhelming need to protect his life’s work. Next to such powerful performances, Tennant could
be overshadowed, but he provides a strong central presence, febrile, hyperbright, his nasal voice hypnotic as he tells the
stories that will finally kill him.
Transfixed by the flash and dazzle of the words, the images and the vivid drama of their delivery, it’s
easy to be carried away by The Pillowman’s glass-slipper logic. McDonagh understands the little chunk of the human brain
that will always crave the words ‘once upon a time’; and if the happy ending is more elusive – in the play,
in life, in the search for definitive meaning – he also knows that imagination, the moment of breath-holding delight
in a darkened theatre, offers its own rewards. Like all good children in the grip of a frightening story, the screaming only
makes you run closer.
The Pillowman| The Independent Nov 22 2003
The spirit of Kafka hovers over this latest pitch-black comedy by Martin McDonagh. Set in a totalitarian state,
it focuses on a writer (superbly played by David Tennant) who is brought in for interrogation about the gruesome content of
his stories, details of which have been copied in a recent spate of child murders. But the uncompromising integrity of Kafka
is missing in a piece that, for all its sadistic comic thrill, toys with difficult questions such as whether art (including
McDonagh's own) can corrupt and whether its survival is worth more than human lives. To 27 Mar PT
MetroLife | The Evening Standard Nov 20 2003
Martin McDonagh, master of bad taste in black comedy's cause, leaps towards maturity in this dazzling, disquieting
nightmare of a play set in some totalitarian state and a police interrogation room. 'Hurry up and torture the prisoner,' murmurs
Jim Broadbent's chillingly deadpan Detective Tupolski, who makes Joe Orton's cops appear mild by comparison. The Pillowman,
superlatively acted in John Crowley's production, makes suggestions about the genesis of literary creativity, asking whether
human suffering can be valuable. Can profoundly abusive parents in a totalitarian state ironically foster the creative spirit
in some victims of their cruelty, while with others they cause irretrievable damage?
David Tennant is superb in angry despair as Katurian, a young writer whose ghastly, parabolic short stories
replicate the form of recent child murders. With his retarded brother and dramatisation of his stories, Katurian reveals an
astonishing story of abuse.
A Violent Kind Of Pillow Talk | The Independent Nov 17 2003
I was about to say that The Pillowman, the latest pitch-black comedy by Martin McDonagh, would have Kafka
spinning in his grave. But since it's a safe bet that Kafka has never stopped spinning since laid there, let's say that this
show will have him spinning quite a bit faster. There are affinities with his work both in the nightmarish predicament in
which McDonagh's writer-protagonist finds himself and in some of the stories this character has penned. But compared with
the moral integrity of Kafka's uncompromising vision, The Pillowman is mere entertainment.
Sure, it raises profound questions. Can art (including McDonagh's own) corrupt and cause damage? Is it parasitic
on suffering and does its survival count for more than human life (including the artist's own)? But it toys with those issues,
playing fast and loose for the short-term gain of an outraged yelp of laughter here or a shuddering shock there. In the end,
you may feel McDonagh has more in common with his pair of creepily teasing interrogators than with his author- surrogate.
Powerfully directed by John Crowley, the play begins in an interrogation room in a totalitarian state. It
looks for a moment as if we are in for a rerun of Pinter's plays about torture, such as for One for the Road and The New World
Order. Katurian (superbly played by David Tennant) is being grilled about the gruesome content of his parable-like stories.
There has been a spate of child murders that seems to have drawn direct inspiration from the grotesque fates that befall Katurian's
characters, heedless of the moral framework in which the fictional atrocities occur. It's like a bad dream. "Are you trying
to say I shouldn't write stories with child-killings in because in the real world there are child-killings?" he asks the soft
cop Tupolksi, who, in Jim Broadbent's lovely performance, is nearer Mr Pooter than Pol Pot. In a totalitarian state, it would,
of course, make the perfectly chilling vicious circle if it were the police themselves who were committing the copycat murders.
How better to frame a writer suspected of dissidence than by reducing the relationship between art and the world to the crudest
model of cause and effect?
The cops aren't smart enough for that, though. The real culprit turns out to be Katurian's brother, Michal.
Played by Adam Godley in a manner that evokes the most grating aspects of Michael Crawford and Smike, this sibling is the
kind of grown-up infant character whose level of retardedness conveniently fluctuates so that the dramatist can have it every
which way with him. Another question the play flirts with is whether it would be kinder to suggest an early suicide to those
children who are doomed to lead a miserable adult life. The eponymous Pillowman is a figure in one of the stories who is heavily
into kiddie euthanasia. All I can say is that it would have been fine by me if Katurian had decided to stifle Michal a good
hour or so before he gets round to it.
Depicted in Hammer horror fashion in dinky overhead sets, the lurid childhood of the brothers suggests a grotesque
correlation between success as a writer and proximity to the suffering of others. The parents nurtured the talent of Katurian
in one room, while next door they were subjecting Michal to years of untiring torture. This insane favouritism was, it seems,
part of an experiment in home- growing an artist. The constant sound of child-torture, you see, made Katurian's stories become
darker and darker. Why they couldn't have just faked these grisly sound effects is not clear. There are twists to this sibling
story, the playwright playing games with what of truth can be derived from the different adaptations.
McDonagh strikes me a fascinating case of a dramatist with extraordinary technical talent and a disturbingly
defective moral sense. I don't like this play, but I can't promise you that I won't go and see it again.