Bedtime stories with a slick, nightmare twist

(Above from left) Adrian Pang, Daniel Jenkins and Shane Mardjuki in The Pillowman.
(Above from left) Adrian Pang, Daniel Jenkins and Shane Mardjuki in The Pillowman.PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

REVIEW / THEATRE

THE PILLOWMAN

Pangdemonium

Victoria Theatre/Last Saturday

Chilling, fascinating and stylish, The Pillowman shows the power and draw of a good horror story.

  • BOOK IT / THE PILLOWMAN BY MARTIN MCDONAGH

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: Till March 12, 7.30pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays), 2.30pm (Saturdays and Sundays), with a 7.30pm show on March 12

    ADMISSION: $30 to $75 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

    INFO: Rated Advisory 16 (violence and coarse language)

In an interrogation room in a totalitarian state, two police officers, Tupolski (Adrian Pang) and Ariel (Shane Mardjuki), make the writer Katurian (Daniel Jenkins) talk about his stories. Many feature children coming to nasty ends and the police are investigating a series of child murders.

Could stories influence reality? If so, what is the writer's responsibility? Irish playwright Martin McDonagh's script asks these questions with vicious humour and subtle compassion.

The cast is impeccable. Jenkins, Pang and Mardjuki reunite in these roles 10 years after director Tracie Pang, Pangdemonium's co-founder, first put The Pillowman together under the aegis of the Singapore Repertory Theatre.

Jenkins makes the play as Katurian, sometimes a frightened pawn of a police state, sometimes a gifted storyteller, always driven by his love for a mentally challenged brother.

Andy Tear is delightful and frightening as the brother Michael.

Pang and Mardjuki turn humour to tension on a dime, wringing gasps from mouths still open on the last laugh and prompting several cries during the more violent scenes.

Eucien Chia's set is versatile and economical. Working with lighting by James Tan, it changes from a featureless interrogation room to a dank cell and even a forest when need be.

Darren Ng's sound and music is a palpable, atmospheric presence. The script is timeless and enhanced by slick, stark animation from Mojo Studio that brings Katurian's grim fairy tales to life.

What we have come to know as bedtime stories were not always sanitised, Disney movies with a vivid colour palette. The Brothers Grimm's collection of tales had blinded heroes, maimed heroines and children surrounded by unspeakable dangers. That does not make the narratives moral. It makes them riveting and, in the case of Katurian, cathartic.

The Pillowman quietly expresses the cyclical nature of abuse in what seems to be an ever-deepening, darkening spiral. A totalitarian government nurtures vicious, power-mad officers. Abusive parents nurture children who grow up to destroy others in turn.

But there is a way out of the madness, as Tupolski points out twice to Katurian during the play.

At the start, the writer sits hooded in a room. His hands are free. He does not remove the hood, though he could. He sits and enacts the story of his captivity exactly as it was thrust on him.

Later, he remembers he can take control of his story and writes his own ending.

For so many others, however, there is a tragic danger of being trapped in the world of the story and not realising that it is possible to close the book and move on.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Bedtime stories with a slick, nightmare twist'. Print Edition | Subscribe