First staged in 2007, The Pillowman returns to the stage, once again deftly helmed by the indomitable Tracie Pang and an incredible cast and creative team.
Written by Scottish playwright Martin McDonagh, The Pillowman takes the form of a police procedural drama with a twist – the murders follow the exact same killing methods as writer Katurian’s dark fairytales (Daniel Jenkins). Put in the hot seat and subject to tortue by good cop/bad cop Ariel and Tupolski (Shane Mardjuki and Adrian Pang), Katurian recounts his own troubled childhood and younger brother Michal (Andy Tear) as the truth behind his dark stories comes to light. As more stories are revealed, the plots become more and more deranged and sadistic, in which their characters (portrayed by Bright Ong, Victoria Mintey and Prudence Rivero) are killed or hurt in increasingly violent ways.
Tracie Pang must be something of an expert at directing The Pillowman by now, and sets the dark, ultraviolent tone right from the start. It helped that Eucien Chia’s multi-layered set was so phenomenal, and furthered the feelings of trepidation and uneasy atmosphere. The set allowed for some rapid changes, and we were impressed at the split second transitions between scenes, and the detail that went into it. A single slide of a door would result in the transformation from police station to storybook world, and really immersed the audience into the world with how elaborate it was.
Adrian Pang and Shane Mardjuki’s onstage chemistry is partly what makes The Pillowman so successful. Mastering their characters, Adrian brought out Tupolski’s snark and Shane brought out Ariel’s violent temperament, always verging on the edge of a full blown assault. Ariel eventually does resort to physical violence against Katurian in his frustration, and we were impressed by how realistically staged it was, casting fear into our hearts. Even as a hard-boiled policeman type character, Adrian Pang manages to layer Tupolski with additional layers of complexity later on when his backstory is revealed. As for Katurian, Jenkins himself is a Pillowman veteran, and really brought out the awkward writer, and his complete sincerity and belief in his role as a storyteller. When the stories were being staged, Pangdemonium employed the use of MOJO Studios’ animation to bring them to life, adding a new dimension to the storytelling process and an added layer of depth.
Later on in the play, Katurian and his brother Michal are reunited after years of separation in his jail cell. Despite the disturbing nature of the brothers and their history, this was a very emotional reunion, and it was the power of familial relationships that triumphs in mood over the overarching darkness of the play. This was also the point where Katurian read the titular story of ‘The Pillowman’, once again enhanced by MOJO Studios’ animation. This was one of the most vividly told stories, and Daniel’s classy, crisp and top notch narration felt as though he was directing the narration directly at us, reaching out and really striking a chord. The beautiful reunion makes Michal’s reveal all the more heartbreaking in the moments that follow, well-timed for dramatic effect.
As the play goes on, a particularly sacrilegious story is revealed, about ‘The Little Jesus Girl’ who was eventually tortured to death for believing she was Jesus incarnate. Again, this was brilliantly portrayed, and in the closing moments of the tale, there’s a truly brilliant set change that we won’t spoil for you, so look out for that! As the play hurtles towards the finish line, there’s still plenty of surprises in store, making for great shock value.
Pangdemonium’s The Pillowman is yet another successful play, a difficult script to stage that would be a much lesser product in the hands of less capable people. But the cast and creative team are very experienced, and handle the staging with aplomb, bringing the nightmares of the play to life in all its gruesome detail. There’s sufficient nightmare fuel in The Pillowman to keep you awake all night long, and yet, possesses a tenderness to the tragedy beneath it all that will make audiences ache with emotional pain. A bloody good way to start off their 2017 season, and a harbinger of more great shows to come.
The Pillowman plays at Victoria Theatre till 12 March and is rated R16. Tickets available from SISTIC