The Pillowman


The Pillowman is a 2003 play by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. It received its first public reading in an early version at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 1995. It tells the tale of Katurian, a fiction writer living in a police state, who is interrogated about the gruesome content of his short stories and their similarities to a number of bizarre child murders occurring in his town. The play received the 2004 Olivier Award for Best New Play, the 2004-5 New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for Best New Foreign Play, and two Tony Awards for production. It was nominated for the 2004 Evening Standard Award for Best New Play.


Katurian, a writer of short stories that often depict violence against children, has been arrested by two detectives, Ariel and Tupolski, because some of his stories resemble recent child murders. When he hears that his brother Michal has confessed to the murders and implicated Katurian, he resigns himself to being executed but attempts to save his stories from destruction. The play contains both narrations and reenactments of several of Katurian's stories, including the autobiographical "The Writer and the Writer's Brother", which tells how Katurian developed his disturbed imagination by hearing the sounds of Michal being tortured by their parents.


Katurian: A writer of gruesome short stories often involving children. His disturbed imagination was the result of having heard his brother being abused when they were younger. Consequently, he killed his parents and looked after his brother. He is shocked by his arrest.

Michal: Katurian's brother, who is "slow to get things" following his years of abuse at the hands of his parents. He is also taken into jail along with Katurian.

Tupolski: The lead detective and the "good cop" in the interrogation. Cold and uncaring, he sees himself as detached from the people he aims to save, shocking his younger partner Ariel.

Ariel: A brutal and violent detective who has a vendetta against anyone who commits crimes against children because of abuse in his own past. He ends up being more sympathetic toward Katurian and his stories than Tupolski is.

Minor characters include the parents/foster parents, The Little Jesus (girl), and a boy.


Act I

Scene 1: Ariel and Tupolski interrogate Katurian in a police room. At first Katurian does not know why he is being questioned, and thinks he is under suspicion of running political messages against the totalitarian dictatorship through his stories. The detectives and Katurian discuss grisly stories involving children. Ariel leaves the room, and soon after Michal is heard screaming in the next room. Ariel returns, his hand covered in blood from apparently torturing Michal, and tells Katurian that Michal has just confessed to killing three children, in association with Katurian. The first two children were murdered according to the patterns of the stories "The Little Apple Men" and "The Tale of the Town on the River." Katurian denies the allegations, stating that although his stories are gruesome it is the job of a storyteller to tell a story.

Scene 2: Katurian was raised by loving parents who encouraged him to write, and for many years he wrote very happy stories. However, at night he began to hear sounds of torture from the next room, and as a result he began to write more disturbing stories. One night, a note is slipped under the door, claiming that Katurian's brother has been tortured nightly for seven years as part of an artistic experiment to get Katurian to become a great writer. Katurian breaks down the door, only to find his parents, who were playing a trick on him, pretending to be torturing a child. However, when Katurian returns years later, he discovers his brother's dead body hidden under the mattress, clutching the manuscript of a beautiful story, better than any of Katurian's, which Katurian burns. Katurian interrupts his narrative to say that this ending was fabricated when he wrote the story: when he broke down the door, he found Michal still alive. Katurian smothered his parents with a pillow that very night in vengeance for his disabled brother and the abuse he suffered.

Act II

Scene 1: Katurian and Michal are together in a cell, Katurian just having been tortured. Michal reveals that he had not been tortured, but rather cooperated entirely with Ariel, even screaming when Ariel asked him to. At Michal's request, Katurian tells him the story of "The Pillowman", about a man made of pillows who convinces children to kill themselves so they can be spared a horrible future. Michal admits to having killed the children, claiming that Katurian told him to do it by telling his stories. Michal says that he murdered the third child after hearing Katurian's story "The Little Jesus", one of his most violent. Michal tells Katurian that he had read the written version of "The Writer and the Writer's Brother", and resented the changes from their lives, wishing that Katurian had written a happy ending for the two brothers. Katurian lulls Michal to sleep by telling him the story "The Little Green Pig", then smothers him to save him the pain of being executed. Katurian calls to the detectives, announcing his intention to confess to the crimes on the condition that his stories are preserved.

Scene 2: Katurian tells the others the story of the Little Jesus, which was thought to inspire the third murder. A young girl believes that she is the second coming of Jesus, and blesses unsavory characters, to the dismay of her parents and annoyance of others. When her parents are killed in a horrific accident, she is sent to live with abusive foster parents. Annoyed by her pretensions, the foster parents crucify her and bury her alive so that she might rise again in three days, but she does not.


Scene 1: Katurian, in the interrogation room with Ariel and Tupolski, is writing his confession, recounting the three child murders as well as the murders of Michal and his parents. Ariel explains his hatred for child-murderers as he prepares to torture Katurian. Katurian guesses that Ariel's hatred arises from a harsh childhood, and Tupolski says that Ariel was raped by his father, whom he later murdered. Tupolski prevents Ariel from torturing Katurian in order to question him. Katurian is unable to answer to whether the third child victim was still alive when she was buried, leading the detectives to think she may still be alive. While Ariel runs out to find the girl, Tupolski tells Katurian his own story about a deaf boy saved from being hit by a train because of the efforts of a Chinese wise man in a tower; Tupolski identifies as the wise man, protecting the innocent without getting personally involved with them. Ariel returns with the girl, whom he found alive. Michal did not use her in "The Little Jesus" story but the benign tale, "The Little Green Pig." The detectives question Katurian and discover that he is ignorant of the details of the child murders, because he was not involved. The detectives execute Katurian for murdering Michal and his parents. Just as Ariel is about to torch Katurian's papers, Katurian stands up and tells how he used his last seconds to tell himself a story about how the Pillowman came to Michal when he was young. Michal decided not to kill himself, and to suffer years of torture, so that Katurian could write his stories. This story was going to end with Ariel burning the stories, but Katurian was shot before he could finish. Ariel decides to save the stories.

Katurian's stories
The Little Apple Men

Told briefly in I.i, and re-enacted in the first child murder. A young girl, whose father mistreats her, carves a set of little men out of apples. She gives them to her father, telling him to save them rather than eat them. He scoffs at her, and eats several. The apple has razor blades inside, which kill the father. At night the remaining apple men accuse the girl of killing their brothers, and jump down her throat to kill her.

The Three Gibbet Crossroads

Told in I.i. A man wakes up in an iron gibbet, aware that he has committed the crime he is being punished for, but unaware of what the crime was. He sees two other gibbets, one marked Murderer and the other marked Rapist. Several people come by who have sympathy for the murderer and the rapist, but express disgust for the first man after reading the sign that identifies his crime. Still ignorant of his crime, the man is shot by a highwayman.

The Tale of the Town on the River

Told in I.i, and reenacted in the second murder. A young boy, mistreated by his parents, offers a strange dark rider a piece of his meal. Touched, the rider presents him a gift: he chops off the child's toes. The conclusion of the story relates that the rider was the Pied Piper on his way to Hamelin to take away the children. Since he crippled the boy, the latter could not keep up with the other children, and was the only child in town to survive.

The Pillowman

Told in II.i. The Pillowman visits people on the verge of suicide because of the tortured lives they have suffered. He travels back in time to the person's childhood and convinces them to commit suicide, thereby avoiding the life of suffering. This task saddens the Pillowman, however, and he decides to visit his own younger self, who readily commits suicide. This relieves the Pillowman's sadness, but also causes all the children he saved to live out their miserable lives and eventually die alone.

The Little Green Pig

Told in II.i. Katurian's most juvenile story, but also the only one devoid of violence. A green pig, who enjoys his peculiar colouring, is mocked by the other pigs. The farmers use a special permanent paint to make the pig pink just like all the others. The pig prays to God to keep his peculiarity, and can't understand why God ignored his prayers. Soon after, however, a magic green rain falls that makes all the other pigs green, and since the little pig retains his pink colour, he is once again "a little bit peculiar".

The Little Jesus

Reenacted in II.ii, and originally thought to be the source for the third murder. A young girl believes that she is the second coming of Jesus, and goes about blessing unsavory characters, to the dismay of her parents and the annoyance of others. When her parents are killed in a horrific accident, she is sent to live with abusive foster parents. Annoyed with her pretensions of divinity, the foster parents complete her performance of Jesus' life by torturing her, crucifying her, and burying her alive so that she might rise again in three days. She doesn't but three days later a man walks through the woods close to the girls grave. He fails to hear the scratching of her nails on the wood on her coffin, and does not see the fresh grave because - like a man the girl tried to heal - he is blind.

The Writer and the Writer's Brother

This story is partially autobiographical. A boy, raised by loving parents who encouraged him to write, wrote happy stories for many years. Then, at night, he begins hearing sounds of torture from the next room, and as a result he began to write more disturbing stories. One night, a note is slipped under the door, claiming that the boy's brother has been tortured nightly for seven years as part of an artistic experiment to get the boy to become a great writer. He breaks down the door, only to find his parents, who were playing a trick on him, just pretending to be torturing a child. However, when he returns years later, he discovers his brother's dead body hidden under the mattress, clutching the manuscript of a beautiful story, better than any of his, which he burns. Later in Act II Katurian tells Michal that in the story, the character Michal was the true "writer" of the title, whereas his own character was merely the brother.

The Shakespeare Room

Michal mentions this story to illustrate the fact that Katurian's work, in general, tends to be dark and twisted. Unlike the others, it is not narrated, acted out, or summarized in great detail. Michal gives the following brief synopsis of the story: instead of being the literary genius the world thinks him to be, William Shakespeare does not pen his own plays; instead, whenever he wants something written, he jabs a little pygmy woman who he keeps in a box and she, in turn, composes a play for him (Shakespeare takes the credit).

The Face Basement

An unnamed, sadistic character chops off the faces of his (undescribed) victims, puts them in a jar, and keeps them in his basement. As with "The Shakespeare Room", this story is mentioned by Michal only in passing.


The Pillowman stemmed in part from McDonagh's experience composing fairy tales, with names such as The Chair and the Wolfboy, The Short Fellow and the Strange Frog, and The Violin and the Drunken Angel, early in his writing career. Attempting to rewrite fairy tales he remembered from childhood, he realized that "there's something dark about them that doesn't quite come through."

In a conversation with Irish drama critic Fintan O'Toole in BOMB Magazine in 1998, McDonagh retold the Brothers Grimm version of Little Red Riding Hood. The wolf's stomach is filled with rocks and sewn with green wire, leading to the wolf's death. McDonagh's comment—"I would love to write something as horrific as that if I could"—indicates a potential inspiration for the story "The Little Apple Men" in The Pillowman.[1]

This play has been described as borrowing from Closet Land (1991), an independent film written and directed by Indian filmmaker Radha Bharadwaj, which starred Madeleine Stowe and Alan Rickman.[2] Commenting on this, Bob Mielke, Ph.D, Professor of English at Truman State University, said that "plot elements of Closet Land persist in another narrative host body, another way in which this text persists and haunts (if you will) our culture."[3][4]


The original London and Broadway productions of the show featured music composed by Paddy Cunneen. [5]

Notable productions
First version

It received its first public reading in an early version at the Finborough Theatre, London, in 1995 in a season that included Shopping and Fucking by Mark Ravenhill.[6]


The play had its world premiere on 13 November 2003 at the Royal National Theatre, directed by John Crowley. The original production starred [7]

  • David Tennant - Katurian
  • Jim Broadbent - Tupolski
  • Nigel Lindsay - Ariel
  • Adam Godley - Michal
New York

The play opened on Broadway on April 10, 2005 at the Booth Theatre and closed on September 18, 2005. Directed by John Crowley, the cast starred:[8]

  • Billy Crudup - Katurian
  • Jeff Goldblum - Tupolski
  • Željko Ivanek - Ariel
  • Michael Stuhlbarg – Michal

The play ran at the Steppenwolf Theatre from September 14, 2006 to November 12, 2009. Directed by Amy Morton, the cast starred:[9]

  • Jim True-Frost - Katurian
  • Tracy Letts - Tupolski
  • Yasen Peyankov - Ariel
  • Michael Shannon – Michal

The play opened on March 23, 2012 at the Théâtre Aleph, directed by Raphaël Joly. The cast starred:

  • Simon Copin - Katurian
  • Thomas Öhlund - Tupolski
  • Pauline Cescau - Ariel
  • Antoine Pluche - Michal
  • Solène Jimenez - A boy / A girl
  • Paul Lenormand - The Father
  • Ségolène Cavalière - The Mother
Vilnius, Lithuania

The play opened at Jaunimo teatras (Youth Theatre) on January 27, 2006 directed by Jonas Vaitkus [1]. Critically acclaimed [2] The Pillowman played its final performance on October 31, 2015.

  • Sergejus Ivanovas - Katurian
  • Vidas Petkevičius - Tupolski
  • Aleksas Kazanavičius - Ariel
  • Arnoldas Jalianiauskas - Michal

The play opened on May 24, 2013 – July 18, 2013 at the Iranshahr Theater . Directed by Aida Keykhaie/Mohammad Yaghoubi.

  • Ahmad Mehranfar - Katurian.k.Katurian
  • Payam Dehkordi - Tupolski
  • Ali Sarabi - Michal
  • Navid Mohammadzadeh - Ariel

Opening on March 24, 2015 – April 19, 2015 the play was held at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast . Directed by Andrew Flynn

  • Peter Campion - Katurian.k.Katurian
  • David McSavage - Tupolski
  • Michael Ford-FitzGerald - Michal
  • Gary Lydon - Ariel

The play opened on May 1, 2007 at the LG art center, directed by Park, Geunhyong .This cast starred:

  • Choi, Minsik - Katurian
  • Choi, Jongwoo - Tupolski
  • Yi, Deyon - Ariel
  • Yun, Zemun – Michal
Hong Kong "小心!枕頭人"

The play first opened on March 26, 2008 at the Hong Kong Fringe Theatre, followed by a revival on June 24, 2008 at the McAulay Studio, Wan Chai Arts Centre, directed by Eric Ng. This cast starred:

  • Paul Sheehan - Katurian
  • Michael Pizzuto - Michael
  • Reuben M Tuck - Tupolski
  • Damien Barnes - Ariel

Season 2008: "Lola Membrives" Theatre, Capital Federal, Buenos Aires. July 2008 to October 2008. Season 2009: "Multiteatro" Theatre, Capital Federal, Buenos Aires. February 2009

  • Pablo Echarri - Katurian
  • Carlos Belloso - Michal
  • Carlos Santamaria - Tupolski
  • Vando Villamil - Ariel
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

The season ran from 18 March - 4 April 2009 at the Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts. Directed by Michelle Miall, the cast included: [10]

  • Steven Rooke - Katurian - received Matilda Award Commendation for best actor
  • Norman Doyle - Tupolski
  • Robert Thwaites - Ariel
  • Chris Vernon – Michal - received Matilda Award Commendation for best actor in a supporting role

The production received Matilda Award Commendation (2009) for Best DIrector, Best Emerging Artist, and the Matilda Award for Direction.[11]

Ankara, Türkiye

The play opened on the 2011 season directed by İlham Yazar and will keep playing on 2013 season at the Turkish State Theatre, Ankara.

  • Murat Çidamlı - Katurian
  • Mesut Turan - Tupolski
  • Tolga Tekin - Ariel
  • Emre Erçil / Buğra Koçtepe - Michal
Genoa, Italy

The play opened on May 1st, 2013, at the Teatro Stabile di Genova. It has been directed by Carlo Sciaccaluga.

  • Aldo Ottobrino - Katurian
  • Andrea Nicolini - Tupolski
  • Enzo Paci - Ariel
  • Alberto Giusta - Michal

Original Broadway production

Year Award ceremony Category Nominee Result
2005 Tony Award Best Play Nominated
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play Billy Crudup Nominated
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play Michael Stuhlbarg Nominated
Best Direction of a Play John Crowley Nominated
Best Scenic Design of a Play Scott Pask Won
Best Lighting Design of a Play Brian MacDevitt Won
Drama Desk Award Outstanding Play Martin McDonagh Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Michael Stuhlbarg Won
Jeff Goldblum Nominated
Outstanding Sound Design Paul Arditti Won
Outer Critics Circle Award Outstanding New Broadway Play Nominated
Outstanding Actor in a Play Billy Crudup Nominated
Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play Jeff Goldblum Won
Outstanding Director of a Play John Crowley Nominated
Outstanding Scenic Design Scott Pask Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design Brian MacDevitt Nominated
Drama League Award Distinguished Production of a Play Nominated
New York Drama Critic's Circle Award Best Foreign Play Martin McDonagh Won
See also
  • Closet Land
  1. ^ O'Toole, Fintan. "Martin McDonagh". BOMB Magazine. Spring 1998. Retrieved 25 July 2011.
  2. ^ Mielke, Bob. "Rebel With a Cause: Radha Bharadwaj's Maverick Masterpiece," Toad Suck Review, No. 4. 2014. Print.
  3. ^ Professor Mielke, Bob. "Radha Bharadwaj, Perfect Traveler." Archived on Radha Bharadwaj Official Website. 23 February 2014. Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  4. ^ Mallon, William. "When an author goes too far: An Examination of the similarities between The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh and Closet Land by Radha Bharadwaj." Honors thesis, Goddard College, March 2010.
  5. ^ Simonson, Robert. "'Pillowman', Martin McDonagh's Dark Bedtime Story, Opens on Broadway April 10" Playbill, 10 April 2005
  6. ^ "History", accessed 5 April 2016
  7. ^ Wolf, Matt. "Review" Variety, 26 November 2003
  8. ^ " The Pillowman Broadway" Playbill (vault), accessed April 5, 2016
  9. ^
  10. ^ The Pillowman, accessed 5 April 2016
  11. ^ "Matilda Awards 2009", accessed 5 April 2016
Further reading
  • McDonagh, Martin (2003). The Pillowman (First ed.). London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-22032-0. 
External links
  • The Pillowman at the Internet Broadway Database
  • The Pillowman at the Internet Broadway Database
  • The Insider review
  • New York Times review
  • Victoria Times-Colonist review

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