The Pillowman

We saw The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh on Friday night at the Duke of York in London’s West End. Was originally intrigued by the plaudits (*) that Lily Allen was getting – already a long-term fan of hers – and noted Steve Pemberton and Paul Kaye in the cast. What’s not to like?

Tweeted these two thoughts so far:

“Saw this at the weekend. Fantastic production, dynamic sets, light and sound. Enormous role for @lilyallen on stage throughout, narrating other parts as well as her own, written originally for male lead. Gruesome plot played for laughs. Awesome.”

“Only criticism – of the play itself – long final scene of the first half, as dialogue between the lead and brother to fill the audience in on the real back-story felt a bit clumsy, unnecessarily explicit and shouty. But overall plenty of twists between good and evil.”


Spoilers Alert:

This (spoiler) review in Theatre News also picks-up on that long dialogue with the disabled brother scene.

And the “horror B-movie” aesthetic is obviously complemented by the “Number 9” allusion of having Steve Pemberton playing the least deranged cast member (or is he?), as well as the set, sound & light design.

The exaggeration for laughs includes Lily / K.K.Katurian very obviously stressing “little boy” when narrating her own earlier life scenes, a child cast tableau member made-up to look like a grinning, early blonde version of Lily. Full of knowing references – the good-cop / bad-cop routine, the Pied Piper of Hamelin, etc, some more explicit than others.

And more spoiler, as that review suggests, the exaggerated non-PC stereo-typing includes references to “jew-boy” and “spastic / retard” and the like in the authoritarian police-state context. All adds to the discomfort of what is already a disturbing multiple child-abuse and murder story line. Well done, but not for the faint-hearted.

Not just the obvious life imitating art thread, but being able to distinguish between the point, the moral, the author’s intention in any given tale and the evil content explicitly depicted and described, and the fact that children, police and dimwits (and theatre critics) might not spot the difference. (Topical in our times of woke cancellation et al?)

Run ends in about a week, but worth looking out for in future.


(*) I say personal “plaudits” because that’s what I saw, but it’s clear some of the negative press reaction was to the play itself – per Theatre News above – and to the whole “cynical” idea of a production with a “pop-star” instead of a “qualified” actress. Not perfect, but very good, I say. I admire Lily for her smarts – I barely knew her as an artist until after I’d heard her speak.


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