the pillowman


Translated by Anu Lamp
Directed by Tiit Ojasoo
Scenographer Ene-Liis Semper
Photographer Herkki-Erich Merila
Starring Tambet Tuisk, Rein Oja, Andres Mähar, Sergo Vares

The Pillowman is the last play by the renowned playwright Martin McDonagh (born in 1970, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore) and it was first performed in London in November 2003. Five months later The Pillowman won the Olivier Award for the best new play. By now the presenting rights have been sold to more than 40 countries and the play has been translated to about 30 languages. It has been estimated that The Pillowman is being performed in some corner of the world at least once a week.
As a well-made-play the text uses traditional methods of tension building. At the same time it can build numerous layers around the core starting from the Irish storytelling tradition to the intellectual criticism of totalitarianism (to mention a few of the many characterizations of The Pillowman).

On the European stages the play has been interpreted in a variety of ways. It is often connected with the Irish storytelling tradition where instead of the moralistic teachings the storytelling itself is laid emphasis on. Therefore the accent is rather on the flow of the story than on reaching the culmination.

At the same time the social aspect of the play is being emphasised. The action takes place in an anonymous country but deducing from the names of the characters it must lay somewhere in Eastern Europe. Thus the play has been seen as a criticism of totalitarianism even though it can also be read as a reference to human cruelty and wish for hurting someone. McDonagh’s text has been described and directed from the viewpoint of an intellectual comedy, as a conspicuous criticism of the society and as a masterpiece of a thriller (although in this case it would be done breaking the rules of the genre as we know who’s the murderer already half way through the story).

The Pillowman has been considered as an example of fiction writing in which case all characters and actions are the protagonist’s fruit of imagination. “McDonagh is not interested in a massacre but in an artistic fiction,” writes a German critic. “McDonagh dreams up a situation that is fictional but that still has a sufficient connection to reality so that it could be true in everyday life.”The cruelty that often has a quick transition to comedy in McDonagh’s plays has been viewed as criticism towards media because it is precisely media that cultivates violence.

At the same time, media has been substituted with fiction and claimed that The Pillowman challenges the author’s responsibility towards his creation as well as the creation’s responsibility towards the society and the reality. In this case McDonagh’s principal dilemma is seen in the question of how far can literature go? Which themes can be discussed, and in which manner? If an artwork can become a crime, can a crime become an artwork. In addition to the aforementioned The Pillowman has been said to be romantic, comical, malevolent, enthralling. It is also a thriller as well as a “chamber play of passion”, semiotic horror story and drama of premonition, extremely funny but sad at the same time, intelligent and obnoxious. It is Franz Kafka and James Bond who meet here together with Immanuel Kant and Konrad Lorenz.

Katurian has been viewed as a man prepared to die to save his creation, hence ensuring his way to immortality. The actors have interpreted Tupolski on one hand as a jovial inspector, as well as a carefully planned player of good cop, bad cop. “Detective Tupolski,” writes a critic, “hides a question in himself: can society – which in itself inherently contains faulty or even underdeveloped ethical attitudes – be damaged by the absolute freedom of expression in media?” Michal has been seen as a beast whose biggest crime is his genuine and sincere nature that prevents him from distinguishing between reality and imagination. Ariel is balancing between generosity and brutality; he is acting ferociously because of his anxieties and fears and at the same time trying to forget about these. The two policemen have been labeled as “the trivial two – a good cop and a bad cop” and “would-be inspectors of morality”, who “let their anger and childhood traumas be felt on those abusing children”.

Tiit Ojasoo’s The Pillowman has been characterized by the critics as a production which “asks who has the power to decide? Who has the authority to be God? Who can define the aim? And most importantly – if and who can break causality, the chain connecting a deed to a consequence?” (Andres Keil) It is also claimed that it is a “criticism of modernistic mania to aestheticism” (Valle-Sten Maiste).

Tiit Ojasoo (b. 1977) works as the artistic director and a director in Theatre NO99 since June 2004. Prior to that he has directed in many Estonian theatre. His production Julia (based on W. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet) was nominated the prize for the Best Production in 2004 in Estonia. Another of his productions Roberto Zucco (starring Tambet Tuisk) won two prizes in the Torun International Festival. In addition to The Pillowman Ojasoo has also directed another play by McDonagh: The Lieutenant of Inishmore. Before the premiere of The Pillowman Ojasoo said in an interview: “Regardless to the context McDonagh’s theme is always the same: the reoccurrence of violence. There is always a gap between the characters, they are unable to communicate, and this creates conflicts again and again.” “I like it when men playing volleyball shout: “Let’s talk in defense, let’s talk in defense!” It is as if the same is shouted in McDonagh’s texts. And again the ball falls in between them.”

Ene-Liis Semper (b. 1969) is the artist of the production and the co-director. She is an internationally eminent video artist. In Estonia she has designed more than 50 productions, and in recent years she has cooperated mostly with Tiit Ojasoo.

Tambet Tuisk – one of the most outstanding young Estonian actors, plays Katurian. The Pillowman is his fourth production with Tiit Ojasoo and the second lead role after Roberto Zucco. For Zucco he earned the Best Young Actor prize in Torun festival. Tuisk has been playing the following characters: Stanislav (Master and Margarita), Dionysos (Brother Antigone, Mother Oedipus), Martin (One Flew Over Cuckoo’s Nest), Orlando (As You Like It), etc.

In the role of detective Ariel you can see Andres Mähar for whom this is the third production with Tiit Ojasoo. His earlier works include Nick (O’Connell’s Car), Edward (Russel’s Blood Brothers), Jasha (The Cherry Orchard), John Hale (The Crucible), etc.
Detective Tupolski is played by Rein Oja who has participated in numerous avangarde productions, like Mati Unt’s production of Master and Margarita and Tango. He has also received nominations for his roles in plays of classical psychological realism (including Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, directed by Jaanus Rohumaa).

Sergo Vares plays the role of Michal. For him this was the first bigger role on a big stage. Vares has participated also in Animal Farm in Tallinn City Theatre and in Midsummer Night’s Dream in Estonian Drama Theatre as well in "King Ubu" in NO99.