|Written by||Martin McDonagh|
|Date premiered||13 November 2003|
|Place premiered||Cottesloe Theatre|
The Pillowman is a 2003 play by British-Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. It received its first public reading in an early version at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 1995, also a final and completed version of the play was publicly read in 1998 and then finished and released as a book in some places in 1999. Production started in 2000 for the eventual 2003 performance. It tells the tale of Katurian, a fiction writer living in a police state, who is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories and their similarities to a number of bizarre child murders occurring in his town. The play received the 2004 Olivier Award for Best New Play, the 2004-5 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best New Foreign Play, and two Tony Awards for production. It was nominated for the 2004 Evening Standard Award for Best New Play.
Katurian, a writer of short stories that often depict violence against children, has been arrested by two detectives, Ariel and Tupolski, because some of his stories resemble recent child murders. When he hears that his brother Michal has confessed to the murders and implicated Katurian, he resigns himself to being executed but attempts to save his stories from destruction. The play contains both narrations and reenactments of several of Katurian's stories, including the autobiographical "The Writer and the Writer's Brother", which tells how Katurian developed his disturbed imagination by hearing the sounds of Michal being tortured by their parents.
Ariel and Tupolski interrogate Katurian in a police room, adopting a good cop/bad cop routine with Ariel happily playing the bad cop. At first Katurian does not know why he is being questioned, and thinks he is under suspicion of running political messages against the totalitarian dictatorship through his stories. The detectives and Katurian discuss grisly stories involving children. Ariel leaves the room, and soon after Michal is heard screaming in the next room. Ariel returns, his hand covered in blood from apparently torturing Michal, and tells Katurian that Michal has just confessed to killing three children, in association with Katurian. The first two children were murdered according to the patterns of the stories "The Little Apple Men" and "The Tale of the Town on the River." Katurian denies the allegations, stating that although his stories are gruesome it is the job of a storyteller to tell a story.
In his own narrative, Katurian describes being raised by loving parents who encouraged him to write, and for many years he wrote very happy stories. However, at night he began to hear sounds of torture from the next room, and as a result he began to write more disturbing stories. One night, a note is slipped under the door, claiming that Katurian's brother has been tortured nightly for seven years as part of an artistic experiment to get Katurian to become a great writer. Katurian breaks down the door, only to find his parents, who were playing a trick on him, pretending to be torturing a child. However, when Katurian returns years later, he discovers his brother's dead body hidden under the mattress, clutching the manuscript of a beautiful story, better than any of Katurian's, which Katurian burns. Katurian interrupts his narrative to say that this ending was fabricated when he wrote the story: when he broke down the door, he found Michal still alive. Katurian smothered his parents with a pillow that very night in vengeance for his disabled brother and the abuse he suffered.
Katurian and Michal are together in a cell, Katurian just having been tortured. Michal reveals that he had not been tortured, but rather cooperated entirely with Ariel, even screaming when Ariel asked him to. At Michal's request, Katurian tells him the story of "The Pillowman", about a man made of pillows who convinces children to kill themselves so they can be spared a horrible future. Michal admits to having killed the children, claiming that Katurian told him to do it through his stories. Michal says that he murdered the third child after hearing Katurian's story "The Little Jesus", one of his most violent. Michal tells Katurian that he had read the written version of "The Writer and the Writer's Brother", and resented the changes from their lives, wishing that Katurian had written a happy ending for the two brothers. Katurian lulls Michal to sleep by telling him one of his happier stories, "The Little Green Pig", then smothers him to save him the pain of being executed. Katurian calls to the detectives, announcing his intention to confess to the crimes on the condition that his stories are preserved.
Katurian tells the others the story of "The Little Jesus", which was thought to inspire the third murder. A young girl believes that she is the second coming of Jesus, and blesses unsavory characters, to the dismay of her parents and annoyance of others. When her parents are killed in a horrific accident, she is sent to live with abusive foster parents. Annoyed by her pretensions, the foster parents crucify her and bury her alive so that she might rise again in three days, but she does not.
Katurian writes out his false confession and adds the names of his mother and father to the list of people he has killed. When Katurian sees how eager Ariel is to torture him, he guesses that Ariel was sexually abused by his father. Before Ariel can begin the torture, Tupolski tells them that the third child might still be alive and Ariel leaves to find her. When Ariel returns with the girl, she is not injured but covered with green paint, revealing that Michal had not reenacted the story of "The Little Jesus" but "The Little Green Pig." It is apparent to Ariel and Tupolski that Katurian was unaware of this and therefore could not have murdered the children like he confessed, but they decide to execute him anyway for murdering his parents and vow to destroy his stories. Before Ariel can execute him, Katurian tells them about the torture Michal suffered in order for Katurian to become a better writer. Tupolski shows no empathy and shoots Katurian in the head. Left alone with Katurian's stories, Ariel decides not to burn them.
The Pillowman stemmed in part from McDonagh's experience composing fairy tales, with names such as The Chair and the Wolfboy, The Short Fellow and the Strange Frog, and The Violin and the Drunken Angel, early in his writing career. Attempting to rewrite fairy tales he remembered from childhood, he realized that "there's something dark about them that doesn't quite come through."
In a conversation with Irish drama critic Fintan O'Toole in BOMB Magazine in 1998, McDonagh retold the Brothers Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf's stomach is filled with rocks and sewn with green wire, leading to the wolf's death. McDonagh's comment – "I would love to write something as horrific as that if I could" – indicates a potential inspiration for the story "The Little Apple Men" in The Pillowman.
This play has been described as borrowing from Closet Land (1991), an independent film written and directed by Indian filmmaker Radha Bharadwaj, which starred Madeleine Stowe and Alan Rickman. Commenting on this, Bob Mielke, Ph.D, Professor of English at Truman State University, said that "plot elements of Closet Land persist in another narrative host body, another way in which this text persists and haunts (if you will) our culture."
The original London and Broadway productions of the show featured music composed by Paddy Cunneen.
|2005||Tony Award||Best Play||Martin McDonagh||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play||Billy Crudup||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play||Michael Stuhlbarg||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Play||John Crowley||Nominated|
|Best Scenic Design of a Play||Scott Pask||Won|
|Best Lighting Design of a Play||Brian MacDevitt||Won|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Play||Martin McDonagh||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play||Michael Stuhlbarg||Won|
|Outstanding Sound Design||Paul Arditti||Won|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Outstanding New Broadway Play||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor in a Play||Billy Crudup||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play||Jeff Goldblum||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Play||John Crowley||Nominated|
|Outstanding Scenic Design||Scott Pask||Nominated|
|Outstanding Lighting Design||Brian MacDevitt||Nominated|
|Drama League Award||Distinguished Production of a Play||Nominated|
|New York Drama Critic's Circle Award||Best Foreign Play||Martin McDonagh||Won|