Crimes and lullabies

Behind a sinister plot, The Pillowman poses questions of morality

  • Arts
Image by: Tiffany Lam

When you’re gone, what do you leave behind?

It’s an age-old question repositioned in a gritty and intimate enactment of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman, by Queen’s Vagabond.

The show has a boldly perverse plot in which Katurian — a writer of gruesome short stories, which depict the murders of children — is questioned by two sadistic policemen following the actual deaths of local children. The show’s grimy and barren set depicts the gruesome themes of the plot. Katurian’s tales act as allegories that lack the morality of traditional fables. They’re dispersed within the three-hour production, brilliantly delivered by the immediately likable Sean Meldrum. Like a suspenseful thriller or a gruesome horror movie, you can’t help but watch as the play descends further into darkness, despite how much your skin is crawling.

The audience is painted an intimate portrait of the characters, with their darkest moments exposed.

Reece Presley, as the torturous policeman Ariel, and Adrian Young as the smarmy detective Tupolski, start off unconvincing in their violent roles. But as their interactions with Katurian become more frenzied, their talent is drawn out.

Yet there’s too much of a discrepancy between the dark subject matter and the moments posed to the audience as humourous.

Tupolski’s lines often seemed out of place. One minute Ariel is about to feed Katurian a child’s toes and the next, Tupolski is baffled, yelling at him to not actually do it.

As we meet Michal, Katurian’s older and developmentally-delayed brother, the audience is drawn into a sickeningly charming plot line. Michal’s wiles, delivered by Pierre Campbell, are more humourous than uncomfortable as the plot calls for him to be more disturbed than he seems.

I wasn’t expecting to laugh at a show named after the hero of one of Katurian’s stories — the Pillowman — a villain who convinces children to kill themselves to avoid a lifetime of future suffering.

When Maria, a child, enters the stage, I feel a pit grow in my stomach. My urge is to leap across the seats and scoop her up to protect her. I know she’s only an actor, but she doesn’t belong in the cruel world the play created.

Whether guilty or not, Katurian faces execution and his only hope is that his stories live on. By the end of the play, the cast has convinced me that in this instance a story is more important than a human life.

The show, superbly cast and delivered, is not for the faint-hearted, but the allegories are the type that stay with you long after you’ve first heard them.

If you could end what you knew would be a lifetime of suffering, would you? What can be justified in a world of wrongs?

It’s these questions that I’m left with as the show ends. For me, Katurian’s stories will live on as I recall them for years to come.

The Pillowman runs in the Baby Grand Theatre until March 16, with performances at 8 p.m. and weekend matinees at 2 p.m.


Play review, Queen's Vagabond, The Pillowman

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