The play "The Pillowman" at the New Theatre Sydney, is billed as a black comedy. But I found Sunday's performace very hard work, more black than comedy. The depictions of torture before the interval are harrowing (and should have a warning at the door). Those who can make it trough the first half are rewarded with some humor in the second half and commentary on families and society.
The play The Pillowman is by Martin McDonagh. It opens with an author detained by the police in an unnamed totalitarian state (which reminded me a little of Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland). We are introduced to two bumbling, at times casually violent, but in the end almost likable police, trying to investigate a series of murders. The apparently innocent author is slowly shown to be not so innocent.
The cast do an outstanding job with difficult material. I was not sure if the routine with one of the police continually dropping their gun with an intimidating thud and casually picking it up was part of the script, but it was effective. The stark stage, which doubled;ed as a police interrogation room and cell was used to full effect and the translucent backdrop allowed the world outside to be hinted at. All the character were believable and unfortunately a police state with casual violence is all too believable.
However, playwrights who write about struggling writers and have their characters indulge in lengthy monologues about the value of storytelling deserve a special level of hell reserved for them. This play is overly long, the depictions of torture excessive and the monologues almost as painful. An hour cut out of the work would make it a much better play.
If the New Theater wants to portray a corrupt political system, with people who are not so much evil as simply inept or misguided by mate-ship, then perhaps a reading from any of the recent corruption inquiries would be sufficient.
"The Pillowman" is on at the New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney, until 13 April 2013.