Article Title:Murderous mayhem in The Pillowman
Author or Credit:Larry Jenkins
Published on:28th August 2007 - 03:48 pm
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Story ID:4838
Text:The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh Auckland Theatre Company Directed by Simon Prast Maidment Theatre Violence on the stage is more powerful and shocking than in films, and playwrights since the origin of drama have used sometimes grotesque acts of aggression with abandon. Think of the blinding of Gloucester in “King Lear” we recently saw in the RSC production (at which members of the audience fainted, apparently); and in The Duchess of Malfi, the duchess is strangled in full view of the audience, as is Desdemona by her Othello. The terrible demise of the incestuous brother and sister in Ford's “'Tis Pity She's a Whore” is something I am squeamish enough not to be able to watch, and the hot-poker-up-the-backside punishment meted out to Richard II, though impossible to realistically show, nevertheless happens onstage. In this tradition, and inspired by the Brothers Grimm, Martin McDonagh has conceived ‘The Pillowman', but the modern twist, whether or not one likes it, is that he invites the audience to laugh at a good deal of the havoc created in the wake of literary creation, that is to say the play uses a murderous writer's output as an incitement for someone else to commit murder and it's made humorous. Then the writer in turn is held responsible and tortured and killed. It's a cynical, if masterful, ploy. The numerous horrors include fratricide, patricide, matricide, infanticide, - including the convincing crucifixion of a young girl - mutilation, torture and live burial, much of which is presented or alluded to in a way that evokes mirth and occasional hilarity. Craig Parker as the writer of macabre and distasteful short stories whose name (Katurian Katurian Katurian) is held up to ridicule by Jonathan Hardy's Detective Topolski during the interrogation of the former, is in excellent form. He manages the wide scope of the part well and runs the gamut of emotional turmoil. The enigmatically-named Ariel, played by Michael Hurst with a savage malevolence, and Harvey's Topolski play off one another like a world –weary Laurel and Hardy, the one fat and sardonic, the other lean and deceptively thick. Gareth Reeves, miscast as Katurian's brain-damaged brother Michal, only skims the surface of possibilities here. Endearing he does well, but there is no hint of the results of a childhood filled with parentally inflicted horrors. Oliver Driver and Bonnie Soper have little to say or do as the parents from hell who torture one child, Michal, almost to death within earshot of his brother Katurian who exacts retribution with a pillow, thus the eponymous title. Simon Prast's direction is sure and precise. He's directed McDonagh's other plays “The Cripple of Inishmann” and “The Beauty Queen of Leename” in New Zealand in the last decade, thus familiarising himself with the rigorous style and the need to adhere exactly to McDonagh's text. John Veryt's stark set and Bryan Caldwell's bright lighting reflect McDonagh's unflinching view of his characters and his no-holds-barred attitude to the violence. Elizabeth Whiting has found just the right dress for each character, the rather noir mode for the detectives, the fifties fluffy clothes and hair for the mother and all else muted or nondescript. The Pillowman drew a huge response from the opening night audience. I predict its run, from now until September 15, will be well subscribed. Not recommended for children unless you want to warp them. Ha ha. Larry Jenkins - 28th August 2007    
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