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The Pillowman

Published Monday 16 February 2004 at 12:30 by John Thaxter

Martin McDonagh’s overlong but disturbing shocker, set in a totalitarian police state, opens with a shortstory writer suffering interrogation by a couple of comic, brutal cops while his brother screams in agony in a cell next door.

If this sounds like a re-run of Harold Pinter’s One For the Road played for laughs, it unfolds as a Gothic thriller told fairytale style, linking the writer’s weird plots with copy-cat child maimings and murder, while McDonagh’s dubious theme implies that no writer can achieve artistic fulfilment without first supping deep of childhood horrors.

John Crowley’s imaginative staging employs terrifying cut-aways to a Harry Potter-ish home life - in which one boy is pampered, while another is given the full torturer’s works by creepy, suburban parents - plus a dazzling picture-book sequence in which a child who thinks she is Jesus reincarnated, is crucified and buried alive in a glass coffin.

Down below in the interrogation chamber David Tennant’s writer puts up a spirited case for his work, while Jim Broadbent’s ‘good cop’ plays a brilliant cat and mouse game turning even the nastiest moments into droll comedy. But Nigel Lindsay’s ‘bad cop’, fired by violent urges, proves to have the greater integrity. Adam Godley gives a cleverly observed performance as the writer’s self-regarding, infantile brother.

Powerfully unsettling stage effects by American designer Scott Pask had people jumping out of their seats. Along the way one can also enjoy a half-dozen or more of McDonagh’s chilling tales, craftily entwined with the action.

This show was reviewed prior to the website launch. A new review may be pending.

Production information

Cottesloe, London , November 7-January 3

Martin McDonagh
John Crowley
National Theatre
Cast includes:
Jim Broadbent, Adam Godley, Nigel Lindsay, David Tennant
Running time:
2hrs 40mins

Production information displayed was believed correct at time of review. Information may change over the run of the show.

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Run sheet

King's Head, Islington London
January 24-February 15 2014