Grigory Ryzhakov – Russian Writer

The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh. Review

The Pillowman cast photo by pjgeller (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

On the Halloween night I went to see a new adaptation of Martin McDonagh’s play The Pillowman at Oxford Playhouse Theatre, a black comedy that swept me off with its masterful accomplishment. Well, I expected no less from this amazing screenwriter and film director who created In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

Thrillers that involve murder, child abuse and violence are not my cup of tea, but there’s a tender compassionate side to The Pillowman that has completely won me over. The peculiar thing about this adaptation is that the two main characters are played by female actors, which magnifies the dramatic effect of the play in my opinion.

In a fictitious totalitarian state a short story writer Katurian is being interrogated by two cops who find bodies of children killed in an exact way as in Katurian’s disturbing stories. Katurian’s mentally-challenged brother, Michal, is also suspected as the writer’s accomplice, especially when cops find children’s toes in Katurian’s house and Michal admits executing the murders. Cops need both of them to come clean before Katurian and Michal can be executed.

As the plot thickens, we hear many Katurian’s stories, we see devastating secrets of the cops’ and the brothers’ past being unveiled.

Everything here is a work of genius, a masterclass for new writers. Each of these eloquent stories shine on their own, yet an indispensable element of the entire play.

The central theme here is the psychological impact of childhood trauma on personal development. If we are hurt and abused as children, does it mean we will hurt others as adults? We find this issue discussed here on several levels, in the dynamics between Katurian and his brother, his parents and the cops. There’s also a different, twisted side to this theme explored in the center-piece story of The Pillowman where a child murder shown as a  ’prophylactic’ euthanasia saving a person from the future unhappy life terminated by suicide. Another theme here is that things done out of compassion aren’t always good. And finally,  there is a discussion important to McDonagh himself about art exploring the dark side of humanity – does it need to be destroyed if it can make people hurt each other?

The Pillowman will remain with me for a long time, as a beautiful piece of writing and thought. I’m definitely getting the book for my library. Every word here matters and that’s what any writer should strive for in his stories.

Various versions of The Pillowman can also be viewed on Youtube. A not-so-sweet Halloween treat for art lovers.

Watch how this Oxford adaptation was prepared



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