The Pillowman, not as comfortable as he sounds

I went with family members to The Gaiety Theatre in Dublin to watch Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman last week. I was expecting a bit of a detective mystery kind of thing, and ended up in some sick, twisted, dark recess of a playwright’s mind. It was great place to visit, but you probably wouldn’t want to live there!!


Reading the blurb before booking I knew there was a story writer being questioned by detectives about some murders done in the style of his stories. Hence my thought that this might be a little bit of a whodunnit, or something about social injustices (as it mentioned totalitarian state).  About 15 minutes in to the play, when there was much shouting ab0ut children being f*cked up, I was beginning to think how much darker it was than I expected, and by the interval I knew we were in real ‘wtf’ territory.

So, the storywriter writes stories that are macabre and kind of creepy. Reviews I’ve read since talk about Quentin Tarintino meeting The Grimm Brothers, so that gives you an idea what we are talking about. I’d maybe go Roald Dahl for adults (more adult than Tales of The Unexpected). More intellectual reviews will discuss the writer trying to tell us about the message of the role of a writer. “To tell a story”. That’s all a bit beyond me.

I’m not sure why its set in a totalitarian state, other than it allows the detectives to issue threats and acts of torture alongside the inevitability of execution.  I guess it removes and locations, and among the actors there is a strange mix of sometimes Irish sometimes American and sometimes something in between.


The story continues revealing some of the stories that have been copied, and we learn about the writer’s brother who has been rendered brain damaged from his torturing parents.  We learn the story of The Pillowman, a story that will send shivers up your spine. I won’t spoil it except to say he has what’s described as the saddest job in the world, and they may be right.

The first half far exceeds that second in tension, darkness and general intensity. The second half for me descended a little into the absurd.  There’s a story of a Chinaman that had audience members giggling through fingers covering cringed faces. They were probably wondering, like I was, if what looked like casual racism was necessary in the telling of the story. Then I was wondering what the f*ck that bit was about completely.

Overall, its a great play though, or at least I  thought so.  There are funny parts. It is however very dark, and uncomfortable in large parts. Anyone that may have lost a child in the past might be best advised to stay away. The youtube video below may give a better idea about reactions to the play.

I’ve been to The Beauty Queen of Leenane, by the same writer. That’s a much lighter kettle of fish. Its dark in its own way, but not by the standards of The Pillowman.

If you’re looking for something that makes you think, and shift on your seat. Then this is a great night’s ‘entertainment’. If you’re easily discomfited, that maybe seek out The Beauty Queen of Leenane which is on in the Gaiety later in a few weeks.

Author: paumurp

I am a youth worker in Ireland. Easily pleased and slow to anger. I love to read, listen to music and to take photographs

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