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10th March 2014

Review: The Pillowman

Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, though deeply unsettling, is one of the best plays I have read, says Alex Webb

In an interrogation room, we meet Katurian, Tupolski and Ariel, the main characters of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman. Acted out in one scene, similar to the stage versions of R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End, this 2003 play will have you reconsidering the sides you take while taking you on a sickening emotional rollercoaster.

The premise of the play is that there has been a murder that Tupolski and Ariel seem to have wanted the writer Katurian to commit. With much of the narrative based around Katurian’s stories, any reader will be drawn in instantly.

McDonagh’s entry into the drama world is by far one of the best plays I have read. The dark, horrifying themes and ideas explored by the characters, who you will soon learn are not to be trusted, will teach you to question everything. As Katurian realises, just because someone tells you something, it does not mean it is true.

It is McDonagh’s ability to create a tense atmosphere from the first line that makes this such a brilliant piece of literature. Throwing you straight into the story with nothing to grab onto leaves you just as confused as Katurian, who has been incarcerated for reasons unknown to him, and it is with him that you learn about his controversial and disgusting children’s stories. Unfortunately, these are not stories made for children but tales of sudden unjust endings of infants’ lives in order to tell some sort of moral. The most interesting of these is the title story that features heavily in the plot progression and, even for just a moment, has you reconsidering your understanding of the world.

McDonagh’s skill in characterising four people, including Katurian’s brother Michal, so well in the space of 100 pages is only a fraction of the talent shown within the covers. While the plot may be lacking in depth, you will find yourself astounded by the world that McDonagh lays before you. Enter into his world at your peril and find yourself asking questions like ‘what kind of criminal could be worse than a rapist or a murderer?’. It’s a narrative that will have you reading The Pillowman all in one sitting.

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