Review: ‘The Pillowman’, Questioning the Ethics of Storytelling

Snowglobe Theatre presents its rendition of Martin McDonagh’s macabre comedy at the MainLine from November 7-17

Image courtesy of Snowglobe Theatre

Snowglobe Theatre presents its rendition of Martin McDonagh’s macabre comedy The Pillowman. Be warned: McDonagh’s imagery is as dark and twisted as it gets. Even more provocative, however, are the questions it raises around the moral responsibility of storytellers—including authors, theatre-makers, and even public officials. This discussion is especially relevant today in regard to fake news, censorship, and a new wave socially conscious artists. The Pillowman prods at the roles, responsibilities, and romanticizations we place on creators. In particular, this play examines the romantic notion of the artist who values his legacy over his own life, and perhaps even the lives of others. 

Matias Rittatore plays a horror author, who writes fables about terrible things befalling innocent children. His dark fables recall the Brothers Grimm, but instead of using violence to teach morals to children, these twisted tragedies reveal the absurd and cruel unfairness of abuse. Many of these stories are told within the play, weaving together themes and revealing truths through fictional lenses. In this blending of fiction and reality, we are led to question whether true creativity comes from experience or imagination. 


The Pillowman features projections of original artwork by Samantha Gold.
Read our recent interview with the graphic artist here.

Genti Bejko and Jeroen Lindeman play intimidating, brow-beating, power-tripping policemen in an authoritarian state. Within the fables, they playfully step into parallel roles, representing abusive parents, bullies, and other oppressive figures. Joanna Felemegos enters as the recurring child protagonist of the writer’s stories, like a conscious prop for the characters to direct, or a silent spectre amongst the action onstage. Jonathan Reinglas, delivers an especially strong performance, both calculated yet candid, in the role of the writer’s intellectually disabled brother. 

The Pillowman demands an intensity and urgency from the actors, despite the wordiness of this two-hour-long script. Director Peter Giser counters its long-windedness with precise blocking, allowing the actors to hit their marks with emphasis and create visually dynamic tableaus.

With his complementary designs in sound, props, and set, Jonathan Greenway creates a dystopian dreamland. Punk-metal remixes of lullabies form an ominous introduction. Greenway achieves a effectively minimalist scenery, with the second act taking a pleasantly surprising step into symbolic surrealism. This duality of bleak realism and colourful dreamworld is paralleled by Giuliano Chabot’s lighting design, as well as the projections of original artwork by Samantha Gold. These nightmarish, childlike drawings act as storytelling tools for the ensemble onstage, like the materialization of the characters’ collective imagination, or the commentary of some unknown entity. (Read more about Gold’s illustrations for The Pillowman here.)

All in all, Snowglobe Theatre allows this challenging, thought-provoking script to breathe, while providing their own critical commentary when necessary. When should the integrity of artistic expression by protected, at the cost of the artist’s or the public’s safety? What is one’s responsibility when creating stories? What is one’s responsibility when consuming stories? Is naive expression really art, or should a true artist be consciously responsible for the ideas they disseminate? It is impossible for themes like these not to become self-referential dramaturgical dilemmas.


The Pillowman presented by Snowglobe Theatre runs at the MainLine Theatre (3997 Blvd. St-Laurent) from November 7–17.
Tickets: $15-20, available at 514-849-3378 | www.mainlinetheatre.ca.

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