The Pillowman

Last night I had the opportunity to see Martin McDonagh’s play ‘The Pillowman’. The play tells the story of a story-teller, Katurian Katurian, and three grizzly child murders relating to his short stories. Set in a future totalitarian state, The Pillowman is a play filled with dark humour and creepy characters. Both the acting and the staging was suburb, channeling the raw emotion present in the original text. The lead, played by Peter Campion, deserved a standing ovation for his performance, which was beautifully similar to Andrew Scott’s in Sherlock.

The most interesting aspect of the story is the inclusion of ‘fairy tales’. Katurian’s stories are very similar to the Grimm fairy tales in term’s of morality and violence. The stories within the play are creepy and darkly comedic. One of the stories entitled ‘The Tale of The Town on The River’ tell’s the story of a child who has been neglected by his family and community. While resting on a bridge a cart approaches the boy. A cloaked man exits the cart and the young boy offers him half of his sandwich. Thankful for the gesture the figure offers the child a present. He tells him to close his eyes and while his eyes are closed the figure severs the boy’s toes. As the boy the boy is now injured he can’t run or walk. At the end of the story it is revealed that the figure was the Pied Piper and because the young boy couldn’t move, he was the only child left alive.

After hearing this tale I decided to research into the tale of the Pied Piper. The original story takes place in the small town of Hamelin in Germany. Many theories have suggested that the character of the Piper is a metaphor for the children who have died during the plague. The tale has been recorded many times by storytellers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Robert Browning, and most famously the Brothers Grimm. I shall include the Brothers Grimm version of the tale below, which has been translated by D. L. Ashliman.

In the year 1284 a mysterious man appeared in Hameln. He was wearing a coat of many-colored, bright cloth, for which reason he was called the Pied Piper. He claimed to be a ratcatcher, and he promised that for a certain sum that he would rid the city of all mice and rats. The citizens struck a deal, promising him a certain price. The ratcatcher then took a small fife from his pocket and began to blow on it. Rats and mice immediately came from every house and gathered around him. When he thought that he had them all he led them to the River Weser where he pulled up his clothes and walked into the water. The animals all followed him, fell in, and drowned.

Now that the citizens had been freed of their plague, they regretted having promised so much money, and, using all kinds of excuses, they refused to pay him. Finally he went away, bitter and angry. He returned on June 26, Saint John’s and Saint Paul’s Day, early in the morning at seven o’clock (others say it was at noon), now dressed in a hunter’s costume, with a dreadful look on his face and wearing a strange red hat. He sounded his fife in the streets, but this time it wasn’t rats and mice that came to him, but rather children: a great number of boys and girls from their fourth year on. Among them was the mayor’s grown daughter. The swarm followed him, and he led them into a mountain, where he disappeared with them.

All this was seen by a babysitter who, carrying a child in her arms, had followed them from a distance, but had then turned around and carried the news back to the town. The anxious parents ran in droves to the town gates seeking their children. The mothers cried out and sobbed pitifully. Within the hour messengers were sent everywhere by water and by land inquiring if the children — or any of them — had been seen, but it was all for naught.

Ultimately I would give ‘The Pillowman’ a 7/10. Some of the performances needed a bit of vocal work. Other than that the production was sublime. The cast, the lights, the sounds, and the stage were all impeccable. I would highly suggest everyone to either see or read ‘The Pillowman’. Other links relevant to the above content can be found below.

Other Links:

1. The Pied Piper of Hameln
2. Decadent Theatre Company / The Pillowman
3. The Pillowman in Hot Press