Martin McDonagh originally conceived the idea of The Pillowman in part from writing children's stories early on in his career. He found that there was something dark within this style of storytelling that didn't quite come through. McDonagh desired to write something out of the darkness of these children's fairytales and thus The Pillowman is his response.
The play opened on November 13, 2003 at the Cottesloe Theatre in London, England. It was acclaimed an received in 2004 the Olivier Award for Best Play, two Tony Awards, and won Best New Foreign Play from the New York Drama Critics' Circle. The play has had multiple international productions and has attracted the likes of actors such as David Tennant, Jim Broadbent, Jeff Goldblum, Billy Crudup, Michael Stuhlbarg, Michael Shannon, and Tracy Letts.