Thursday, 24 May 2007

The Pillowman, MTC, May 24, 2007

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh 
Melbourne Theatre Company
 Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, South Melbourne, May 24 to June 23, 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on May 24, 2007

There are certainly echoes of Kafka and Grimms’ Fairytales in The Pillowman by Anglo-Irish playwright, Martin McDonagh.

It is a tragicomedy, a peculiar knitting of violence and humour reminiscent of a Tarantino movie. McDonagh razor-sharp dialogue produces outbursts of laughter amidst the horror.

Katurian (Joel Edgerton), a writer of dark tales, is interrogated and tortured by two unpredictable police officers (Kim Gyngell, Greg Stone) of a totalitarian state, about the relationship of his grisly stories to several actual child murders. In an adjoining room, his intellectually disabled brother, Michal (Dan Wyllie), gives his own account.

The interrogation is interlaced with Katurian fairytales that transport us to grim places. In Little Apple Men, a father dies eating apple laced with razor blades and in The Tale of the Town by the River, a passing stranger chops off a little boy’s toes. Apart from the innocuous Little Green Pig, Katurian writes almost exclusively gruesome tales.

McDonagh write very funny, swift-moving dialogue and the three hours are compelling. It is, however, disconcerting that laughter dilutes the gasping horror of the crimes committed against children and diverts us from genuinely feeling the pain or experiencing the tragedy. This is a signature of McDonagh’s style.

Simon Phillips’ direction is stylish and beautifully timed and his cast is exceptional. Edgerton captures a naivete and confusion, making Katurian vulnerable and credible. Wyllie’s depiction of the disabled and abused Michal is uncanny and often hilarious; he finds humour in the pathos of a disabled young man who misinterprets the world and his brother’s stories so tragically.

Gyngell’s playful and quirky portrayal of “good cop”, Tupolski, is totally engaging and impeccably timed and is a perfect foil for Stone’s gruff and vicious “bad cop”, Ariel, who reveals his softer side late in the play.

The bleak, grey set design (Gabriela Tylesova) evokes not only the distressed concrete walls of the interrogation cell but also its transparency allows grotesque fairytales and the boys’ childhood memories to be played out as an eerie half-life. Lighting (Matt Scott) transports us from past to present with evocative and subtle changes while unnerving and ghostly shadows play on the scrim. The production is enhanced by Ian McDonald’s music.

Natasha Herbert and Richard Bligh skilfully portray a range of grotesque characters and Rima Hadchiti is enchanting as the real and the fairytale Child.

The Pillowman is a cunningly wrought and disturbingly comic play.

By Kate Herbert

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