The pillowman


18 March - 4 April 2009 . Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts

Katurian Steven Rooke
Tupolski Norman Doyle
Ariel Robert Thwaites
Michal Chris Vernon
Mother Emma Pursey
Father Matthew Filkins
Child Emma Che Martin


Michelle Miall

Set Designer Amanda Karo
Lighting Designer Jason Glenwright
Composer / Sound Design Chris Perrin
Executive Producer /  
Production Manager Kathryn Fray
Producer Christopher Sommers
Production Assistant
Amanda Bell
Stage Manager Whitney Eglington
ASM Timothy Wallace  
Fight Coordinator Scott Witt
Secondment ASM Gabriella Zsolnia
Stills Photographer Morgan Roberts 



23rd Productions recently staged the sell out Queensland Premiere of The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh at the Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts Brisbane.

Katurian is in an interrogation cell, unsure of why he’s there. He thinks it might have something to do with the stories he’s written. Enter a pair of vicious cops and a child-like brother, and McDonagh’s tale unfolds with suspense and horror.


Images of the pillowman - march / april 2009

Steven Rooke and Chris Vernon
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Emma Pursey, Matthew Filkins and Emma Che Martin
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Steven Rooke and Robert Thwaites
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Steven Rooke and Robert Thwaites
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Steven Rooke, Roberth Thwaites and Norman Doyle
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Steven Rooke and Norman Doyle
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Steven Rooke and Robert Thwaites
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Steven Rooke, Robert Thwaites and Norman Doyle
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Emma Pursey, Steven Rooke and Matthew Filkins
Photo: Morgan Roberts
Chris Vernon
Photo: Morgan Roberts

review - the pillowman - courier mail

Reviewed by Sue Gough

Martin McDonagh is known for work that combines slapstick comedy and in-your-face violence. Brisbane has seen his particular brand of mayhem with stage productions of The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lonesome West, The Lieutenant of Inishmore and the movie In Bruges, and we fell about laughing under the spell of his dark magic, even as we watched people splattered and tortured.With The Pillowman he has moved into territory that is even more profoundly disturbing. No longer relying on the eccentricities of Irish whimsy, he takes us by the hand and leads us deep into the forest of the imagination, to that place where art and reality dance around one another warily.

Katurian (Steven Rooke) a young writer, in a totalitarian state, is held on suspicion of a series of child murders. He is suspect because his strange stories, in the style of the Brothers Grimm, appear to predict the crimes. His mentally retarded brother (Chris Vernon) is also being held and tortured in order to gain information that will incriminate the writer. At this point we are given a horrific back-story involving the parents of the two boys. Emma Pursey as the mother, and Mathew Filkins as the father, emerge as sweetly smiling demons. But enough of the storyline: this is one play where a reviewer must not expand upon the plot because the gifts it holds for the audience lie in the perfection of its ravelling and unravelling, and in the unanswerable questions it raises about the power and responsibility of the writer.

The stories Katurian has created are exquisitely concocted, gothic cameos in shades of deepest black. They are in marked contrast to the chilling light of the interview room and the predictable behaviour of the two detectives: the vicious thug, Ariel, (Robert Thwaites) and the flippantly sardonic Tupolski (Norman Doyle).  We are thrown from one scenario to another until we are disoriented enough to be vulnerable to a master playwright’s killer denouement.

Michelle Miall’s direction is flawless, as are the performances. Amanda Karo’s design manages to encompass prison, home and forest on the tiny Metro stage. Jason Glenwright’s lighting and Chris Perren’s soundscape help to create an ambience that is at once threatening and banal. It all comes together as a terrific production of a brilliant play.

the pillowman - review - rave

SEANNA VAN HELTEN reviews 23rd Productions’ performance of Martin McDonagh’s brutal comedy, THE PILLOWMAN.

23rd Productions has carved itself a niche in Brisbane’s theatre scene by producing quality, international plays by acclaimed contemporary playwrights, including Patrick Marber’s Closer and Simon Stephens’s Motortown. This year, as part of Metro Arts annual Independents program, 23rd Productions presents The Pillowman, by Anglo-Irish writer Martin McDonagh (The Lieutenant Of Inishmore, In Bruges). Directed for the company by Michelle Miall, The Pillowman is a disquieting study of the nature of storytelling, set in an unnamed totalitarian dystopia.

As the play begins, writer Katurian K. Katurian (Steven Rooke) sits blindfolded in a police interrogation room. Detectives Topolski (Norman Doyle) and Ariel (Rob Thwaites) enter, presenting Katurian’s vast collection of macabre short stories – twisted moral fables depicting abused children – as evidence of both his depraved character and his connection to three local child murders that bear strong similarities to Katurian’s writing. In the next cell, the writer’s older but "backward" brother Michal (Chris Vernon) is also being held under suspicion. Katurian is soon forced, under duress, into a confession, the likely outcome of which is execution without a trial.

To what extent Katurian is responsible for the three deaths, and to what extent his gruesome literary themes owe to his own violent past, are the central puzzles in playwright McDonagh’s tightly-wound plot. The Pillowman is a clever and chilling script, replete with both exacting wordplay and the brilliant, imaginative imagery of Katurian’s Brothers Grimm-like stories, which play a central role in the plot’s twists and turns. It is a bizarre jostle of menace and playfulness but, in McDonagh’s inimitable style, it works.

McDonagh pitches compelling questions without easy answers. This is not just a play about the responsibilities of the artist and his moral sway over his audience (the hoary argument that gets thrown around every time a murderer/paedophile/sadist admits to liking the work of Marilyn Manson/Bill Henson/Nintendo). The play’s most urgent subject is storytelling itself. "The first duty of the storyteller is to tell a story," intones Rooke’s thoughtful Katurian. "Or is that the only duty?" No story has a moral core powerful enough to incite a crime – a story is just a story. What that story reflects in each of our souls is a much more powerful tale.

Nevertheless, as we see when Katurian’s stories are brought to pantomime life by support cast Emma Pursey, Matthew Filkins and Emma Che Martin, the line between fact and fiction is a blurry one. Each of the characters is a storyteller, either in a literal sense or in the more spiritual way each of us lives according to the stories we tell ourselves.

Rooke is excellent in his complex role as the loyal but intensely proud Katurian. His foils are Doyle and Thwaites’ crooked cops, both nuanced and surprising performances that elicit the majority of audience laughs.

Director Miall gently steers the actors through the text’s most difficult turns, finding the comedic pace within McDonagh’s unlikely sources of humour. The re-enactment in the second act of Katurian’s most disturbing story, "The Little Jesus," is a highlight. At times the audience’s focus seems misdirected during some of the more tense moments, but the production is solid overall and carried with force by the central actors and, of course, McDonagh’s writing. Lighting designer Jason Glenwright replicates beautifully through filtered sidelights the broken beams of stage designer Amanda Karo’s dank, grey police cell, juxtaposed with a pop-up storybook backdrop.

The Pillowman has brought McDonagh numerous awards, and the play is sure to compound the kudos and recognition for emerging independent theatre company, 23rd Productions.