Trying to approach Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman as the story of the attempt to uncover the culprit of a series of murders will not do. Nor is it adequate to see the play’s protagonist, Katurian, as something equivalent to Hamlet. This play requires a new audience, a new economy of representation, and new tools of critical interpretation.
For a start, the cliché that the play is set in some vaguely ‘Kafkaesque totalitarian state’ needs a definite rethink. Indeed, the idea of Kafka himself as the novelist of the ‘totalitarian state’ is in itself suspect – it is a reading that stinks of the liberal humanist hypocrisy of comfy American college campuses, and in any case, it offers no help in our understanding of McDonagh’s play. A more effective analysis of The Pillowman needs to account for its rhizomatic quality, its multiplicity of fictions that never quite cohere and which always remain out of joint.
Dan Wilner’s production of The Pillowman therefore comes as a great relief. It seriously engages with the play’s many fictions, working hard to establish both the interpersonal web that forms the base of characterisation, and the provisional nature of Katurian (played by Rory Fazen), a children’s author whose tales of infanticide are eerily mirrored in real life events. Although Fazen’s performance can at times feel flat, the moments when he really gets to grips with the character are rewarding.
The highlight of this production, though, has to be Krishna Omkar and Jacob Lloyd’s ‘good cop/bad cop’ double-act. Revealing a biting comprehension of the rhythm underpinning the interrogation scene, Omkar and Lloyd’s performance shows how an intellectual knowledge of the power relations that structure a dramatic dialogue can be translated into affective acting.
The blocking is well thought out, and works to increase the play’s startling tone; likewise the set-design is purposeful. Wilner has made a good fist of the material McDonagh has provided, making The Pillowman an opportunity to end Michaelmas with a rewarding piece of contemporary theatre.
The Pillowman will be showing at the Burton Taylor Studio from Tuesday to Saturday of 8th week, at 7.30pm.