Hearing voices in his head

From far left: Shane Mardjuki, Daniel Jenkins and Adrian Pang in The Pillowman.
From far left: Shane Mardjuki, Daniel Jenkins and Adrian Pang in The Pillowman. PHOTO: CRISPIAN CHAN

Reprising a much-loved role of a writer of gruesome stories, Daniel Jenkins keeps hearing his co-stars' voices in the first staging

When actor Daniel Jenkins practises his lines for The Pillowman, he hears the voices of cast members from the first staging in his head.

That is disturbing for an actor hoping to keep an old role fresh. But it is not as disturbing as the plot of The Pillowman, a macabre play in which gruesome fiction allegedly inspires a series of murders.

Staged by Pangdemonium, the theatre troupe started by married couple Tracie and Adrian Pang, The Pillowman opens on Friday and runs till March 12 at the Victoria Theatre.

Jenkins plays Katurian, the writer of the gruesome stories. The policemen who interrogate the writer for his complicity in the killings are once again played by Shane Mardjuki and Adrian Pang. Tracie Pang directs.

  • BOOK IT /THE PILLOWMAN BY MARTIN MCDONAGH

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9Empress Place

    WHEN: Friday to March12, 7.30pm(Tuesdays to Saturdays), 2.30pm (Saturdays and Sundays), with a 7.30pm show on March 12

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

    INFO: Rated Advisory 16 (violence and coarse language)

The Pillowman, written by Irishman Martin McDonagh, won critical acclaim when it was first staged here in 2007 by the Singapore Repertory Theatre.

Tracie Pang received a nomination for best director at the 2008 Life Theatre Awards (won that year by Natalie Hennedige for Nothing).

"We don't want to do a carbon copy of the old version," she says. "It's been 10 years. We want to see how we have evolved."

Jenkins, now in his late 40s just like the director, jokes: "I'm a little more tired now than 10 years ago. Bruises come more easily."

The play's theme of trying to separate fact from fiction is familiar in today's world where fake news websites abound.

Jenkins says that sometimes he sees news items on Facebook that are later validated by media he respects, such as The Guardian newspaper.

"Then there's other stuff which you wonder: 'Can I believe it?'"

Muddying the waters of the murder investigation in The Pillowman is Katurian's mentally challenged brother, a role played in 2007 by Michael Corbidge and now by Andy Tear.

Also in the cast are performers Bright Ong, Victoria Mintey and Prudence Rivero.

The director says Tear is the perfect "brother" to Jenkins' Katurian. Navigating other differences from 10 years ago is more challenging.

The performers are now not allowed to light cigarettes on stage, but smoking is crucial to much of what happens. Then there is the set. Most of the action takes place in and around a cell. The Victoria Theatre is much larger than the Singapore Repertory Theatre's theatrical home in Merbau Road, where the 2007 version was staged.

"How do we try to keep it confined without losing the sightlines?" the director says, referring to the challenges of keeping the set claustrophobic, yet open and visible.

The Pillowman is among the works most requested by followers of the Pangs. The couple describes the script as "hilarious, shocking, suspenseful, moving", but its dark tones are probably the biggest plus to Singaporean audiences.

Tracie Pang says: "I have noticed that when there's something dark in nature, Singaporeans flock to it. Look at horror films, Singaporeans love to see them."

Jenkins adds: "One is rarely scared in the theatre. You can find it funny or be moved, but when there are some dark moments, it's quite novel."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2017, with the headline 'Hearing voices in his head'. Print Edition | Subscribe