Twelve years after the play was first produced, Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman finally makes its way to the Irish stage in Decadent Theatre Company’s new production. Widely considered McDonagh’s masterpiece, The Pillowman is a whirlwind Pinter-esque comedy of menace that has collided with a book of Grimm’s fairytales; teasing audiences with its sharp observations about family, legacy, artistry and authority since it won the Olivier for Best Play in 2003.
Decadent’s intention is to create theatre that is accessible to a wider audience, a goal which should be applauded, and for which The Pillowman is an excellent choice (it is both a behemoth of dramatic excellence and a stonking good night at the theatre). However, this earnest attitude may be responsible for some creative missteps that see Decadent’s Pillowman pack far less than its potential punch.
Tension is the key to McDonagh’s brilliance here, and it was sorely missed in this production. While Peter Campion was spot on as the gutless Katurian K Katurian and Gary Lydon’s bulldog policeman Ariel thundered splendidly around the stage, the decision to cast comedian Dave McSavage in the crucial role of Tupolski served the comedy of the piece at the expense of the deep-rooted sense of terror which should engulf these scenes. McSavage can’t be held responsible for this, he is not nor has he ever claimed to be an actor (his last ditch pre-show interview with Brendan O’Connor repeatedly stressed as much), this was a choice of fashion over function from Decadent’s creative team.
The show’s design is beautifully imaginative, particularly during the storytelling sequences, with the dizzying heights of the interrogation room making way for the stunningly realised realm of Katurian’s brilliant but bleak imagination. However, The Pillowman‘s most powerful moments lie in the long scene between the brothers: Campion’s Katurian and Michael Ford Fitzgerald’s Michal – a scene which boasts riotous laughs, quiet pathos, beautiful storytelling and a dark, burning core – all you could ever want from one of the most exciting plays in recent memory.