Wednesday 21 June 2023

The Pillowman - Review

Duke of York's Theatre, London


Written by Martin McDonagh
Directed by Matthew Dunster

Lily Allen and Steve Pemberton

Martin McDonagh’s absurdist play is an exploration of the freedom of speech and the suppression of dissent. 

In a dystopian world where the writer Katurian (played by Lily Allen) and her brother Michal (Matthew Tennyson) have grown up in an abusive family and where Tupolski (Steve Pemberton) and Ariel (Paul Kaye), the two cops investigating a series of murders that appear to have been committed by the siblings are themselves damaged individuals, little is what it seems.

McDonagh messes with our minds as Katurian’s short stories blur in and out of reality, with much of the play’s narrative, both spoken and occasionally physically performed, proving horrifically graphic. 

Technically, the production’s staging is breathtaking. Allen is responsible for delivering a raft of mind-boggling monologues, proving magnificent in the role. Equally Pemberton, and Kaye in particular, are compelling policemen. Anna Fleischle’s designs hitched to Neil Austin’s lighting work and Dick Straker’s videos ingeniously blur our perceptions, contributing to the evening’s sense of profound disquiet and even moments of awkward humour.

McDonagh’s argument ultimately suggests that it is the authoritarian state that stifles ideas. While there is of course some credence to this, it is also important to note that in 2023 books are being burned and voices are being silenced, not by the authorities, but by the pile-on mobs of social media and self-appointed cultural apparatchiks who are determining what ideas are and are not, acceptable. Thus the question has to be posed: Is The Pillowman, a play first performed some twenty years ago, an already out of date cliché?

Not an easy night out by any means - but a striking and memorable piece of theatre.

Runs until 2nd September
Photo credit Johan Persson

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