The Pillowman

Maidment Theatre, Auckland

23/08/2007 - 15/10/2007

Production Details

By Martin McDonagh
Directed by Simon Prast


Hot from sell-out Broadway and London seasons, Auckland Theatre Company presents the New Zealand premiere of Martin McDonagh’s viciously funny new play, The Pillowman.  Directed by Auckland Theatre Company’s founding Director Simon Prast and featuring Oliver Driver, Jonathan Hardy, Michael Hurst, Craig Parker and Gareth Reeves, The Pillowman plays at the Maidment Theatre from August 23rd – September 15th. 

In an unspecified totalitarian state, unpublished writer Katurian Katurian (Craig Parker) is interrogated about his nightmarish short stories and their similarities to a number of gruesome murders occurring in his town.  When Katurian’s mentally impaired brother Michal (Gareth Reeves) is also brought in for questioning, two sardonic secret policemen resort to increasingly absurd and hilariously unconventional methods of interrogation to uncover the truth.

Stylistically akin to American Psycho, with the suspenseful twists and turns of The Silence of the Lambs.  The Pillowman represents the most exhilarating writing that contemporary theatre has

Auckland Theatre Company Artistic Director, Colin McColl, says: “Underneath the grisly acts of horror The Pillowman is about the power of storytelling and the thrilling narrative potential of theatre itself.  The play also explores artistic censorship and how the pursuit of justice can result in actions that are as horrific as the crime”, says McColl.

Simon Prast was Auckland Theatre Company’s founding director from March 1992 – February 2003.  During his tenure, Simon produced and / or directed over sixty mainbill productions including The Graduate, The Rocky Horror Show, Hair, Death of a Salesman, A Streetcar Named Desire, and 12 Angry Men, which Subscribers voted ‘ATC Production of the Decade’.

He directed the inaugural Auckland Festival, AK03, later voted ‘Event of the Year’ in the 2003 Metro Readers Poll. The same poll voted Simon ‘Auckland Man of the Year’, an acclaim he shared with then-Mayor John Banks. After a 4 ½ year break, Prast is happy to be back in the director’s chair for this production.

“To work with a first-rate cast and crew on a masterful new script is a great privilege. McDonagh lures you to places you have never been, so as to experience events you will never forget. And I mean, NEVER!!! Unmissable”, says Prast.

Senior New Zealand actor, director and writer, Jonathan Hardy, returns to play police interrogator, Tupolski. Hardy has performed for major British companies and all the State theatre companies in Australia. He is much awarded especially for his classical work. Hardy joins Auckland Theatre Company veterans Michael Hurst (dir. Twelfth Night), Oliver Driver (Twelfth Night, Caligula), Craig Parker (Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead) and Gareth Reeves (The Crucible, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) on the Maidment Theatre stage for this production.  Newcomers Bonnie Soper (Ensemble Project) and Brooke Williams (The Crucible) round-out this talented cast.

Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman played to critical acclaim in London (Olivier Award Winner) and New York (Tony nominee). McDonagh’s other plays include The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Cripple of Inishmaan and Tony nominees The Lonesome West and The Lieutenant of Inishmore. His short film Six Shooter won a 2006 Academy Award.

The production will be designed by John Verryt, with lighting by Bryan Caldwell, costumes by Elizabeth Whiting and sound by Eden Mulholland.

Viciously funny, horrifyingly theatrical and packed with adrenaline pumping narrative, The Pillowman is a Brother’s Grimm tale for the twenty-first century.


Tickets to Auckland Theatre Company’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman are available through the Maidment Theatre Box Office 09 3082383 or online

Performances Times:
Tuesday – Wednesday 6.30pm
Thursday – Saturday 8.00pm
Sundays 4.00pm
Preview Performance Thursday 23rd & Friday 24th August at 8pm 
Matinee Saturday 8th September at 2pm
Tickets: $30 – $54 (booking fees apply) 


Katurian Craig Parker Tupolski Jonathan Hardy

Ariel Michael Hurst

Michal Gareth Reeves

Father Oliver Driver

Mother Bonnie Soper

Girl Brooke Williams


Director Simon Prast

Set Design John Verryt

Lighting Design Bryan Caldwell

Costume Design Elizabeth Whiting

Sound Design Eden Mulholland

Production Manager Mark Gosling

Technical Manager Bonnie Burrill

Senior Stage Manager Aileen Robertson

Lighting Operator Robert Hunte

Properties Bec Ehlers

Wardrobe Supervisor Petra Verweij

Set Construction 2CONSTRUCT

Costume Construction The Costume Studio

Theatre ,

A storyteller’s story

Review by Nik Smythe 27th Aug 2007

The action takes place in the interrogation rooms of a police precinct in an undisclosed totalitarian urban centre, where a criminal can be caught, tried and executed all in a day… Mega City One perhaps?  John Verryt’s greyscale set is appropriately minimal, the main back wall dressing resembling a horizontal crucifix, though not as much as it does a big white present wrapped in a black ribbon.

The main character Katurian, played with genuine humanity by Craig Parker, is in custody for reasons he is yet to be informed about.  His misanthropic custodians Ariel, a seethingly volatile Michael Hurst, and Detective Tupolski, a glib and bureaucratic Jonathan Hardy, make it clear to Katurian that he’s in trouble and going to suffer.  But rather than explain why, they proceed to violently question him on the nature of the twisted and often brutal stories he writes. 

Katurian is cooperative, lucid and logical, but stripped of his rights and on the back foot for lack of knowing what he’s even doing here. As the clues in what plays out in the first scene as a classic detective mystery are revealed, and the sense of what’s happening and why slowly forms, the play becomes a philosophical discussion about the implied moral responsibility of authors. 

Actually, it’s one of those plays with so many layers and twists that it’s best to just watch it.  The script is remarkably engaging considering it’s often didactic and repetitive, as indeed are police inquiries for reasons of legal clarity.  Unfortunately a few fluffed lines and a badly timed gunshot sound effect did break the otherwise powerful atmospheric spell a few times.  However it’s evident that Simon Prast, ATC founder and The Pillowman‘s guest director to mark the company’s 15th birthday, is in his element with this neo-gothic psychological thriller, which he has expertly composed and presented to a warmly responsive opening night audience. 

Both Parker and Gareth Reeves, as his mildly retarded (for reasons revealed in time) older brother Michael, have a palpable human quality that makes for enthralling theatre.  Reeves’ matter-of-fact childish naivety is so endearing that when his more sinister nature becomes apparent, delivered with exactly the same simplistic honesty, it’s all the more heartbreaking.

Hardy’s Tupolski is a darkly triumphant tour-de-force. Initially quite grandfatherly, we see him wear his authoritarian position with a kind of cavalier disdain.  Hurst’s Ariel is all fists and fury to start with; not too much of a stretch for the actor.  The morally driven white collar everyman beneath his angry fascist exterior comes through in the third act, creating a duality which Hurst appears to struggle with a little, in maintaining the character’s cohesion.

In cameo roles as characters in Katurian’s grimly fanciful tales, Oliver Driver and Bonnie Soper bring a deceptive absurdity as various parental characters, all of whom are ultimately evil, scheming sadists.  Meanwhile Brooke Williams’ brilliantly realised little girl roles are worthy of cult classic status, in particular the demonically divine ‘Little Jesus’.

Verryt’s bureau-gothic set is enhanced with skillful subtlety by Bryan Caldwell’s lights.  And I was impressed by the instant hush in the auditorium when the house lights snap to black to signal the beginning of each half.  Eden Mulholland’s sound design is for the most part unobtrusive, apart from the swelling melodramatic orchestral piece that accompanies the second act’s climax.   Elizabeth Whiting’s costumes are similarly perfect enough so as not to distract us by seeming out of place.

The programme’s written bio on the playwright informs us that playwright McDonagh dislikes theatre and originally only wrote plays with the intention of advancing to screenplays.  With all his works based on a series of stories originally written inside a year in the mid 90s, The Pillowman was the first of these but the most recently rewritten.  The literary protagonist and the conceptual anti-ideology suggest something autobiographical in the essence of this storyteller’s story.

The idea that sticks with me most is that perhaps stories are as inevitable and essential to the fabric of reality as life itself, and our predestined purpose as crude carbon based life forms is to ensure the stories are told.  Katurian’s stories, like any great story, seem larger than the author who invented them, as though he’s really just channelling the story into our world from it’s home dimension.


Jonathan Hardy September 24th, 2007

Nik we all agree about the gun. It happened only on the first night. It is not allowed with out and armourer on standby and in Australia that Beretta would be taboo. Even if it was cigarette lighter. Interestingly the schools audience were wonderful and engaged by the play. the crucifixion scene was the playing out of the little Jesus story.

Melissa September 10th, 2007

Am I missing something! I don't remember a gunshot? Nor do I remember the Little Jesus story being acted out! I saw the play yesterday and thought it was brilliant!...although i did have a few nightmares last night :o)

nik smythe August 29th, 2007

that's a fair call Mark, you consummate Dredd scholar you. i didn't see the notice you mentioned Michael, but the greatest shame was, as i said, the badly timed sfx of the gunshot. odd that they have realistic merciless bloodletting with blades and thorns and spears but they didn't have a real stage gun that went 'bang' by itself. i've often found ATC work to be excessively safe and punch-pulling and i found this production refreshingly not so, apart from the gun - especially given the warning you mentioned.

Michael Wray August 28th, 2007

A stunning show, excellently presented. They were going for stark presentation and got it. Even the lights - no fade to black for the start of performance, just switch them off and then bang we're off. The structure of having all these stories within the story reminded me of a Jostein Gaarder and I think there's also a Kurt Vonnegut novel where they "spend" these ideas freely and you think – don’t you want to save some of these for your next play/novel. One complaint, though a minor one – don’t put up notices in the foyer warning the audience that there will be a gun shot, even stating when it will take place. It takes away some of the suspense. There was a moment reasonably early that caused the audience to react startled, but we didn’t have warnings stating “someone will make you jump in the nth Act.”

Mark Harris August 27th, 2007

Bollocks. There is no way a MegaCity Judge is going to waste time in an interrogation room. Why d'you think they have Lawgivers, fer Drokk's sake?

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