Written by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh, The Pillowman is a dark, challenging tale that explores the power of storytelling and the consequences of the stories we create.

In this 2023 production, the lead role of Katurian Katurian has been gender swapped and performed by Lily Allen, who offers a strong portrayal of distress and mental anguish throughout. Playing the role of a writer being interrogated about a series of child murders that resemble the stories she has written, Allen channels a range of emotions with impressive conviction. Whilst somewhat exaggerated and shrill at times, her display of Katurian’s confusion, anger, then despair is intense and moving.

As the play unfolds, we are taken on a journey through Katurians horrific past and her relationship with her family. Her brother, played here by Matthew Tennyson, who struggles with learning difficulties provides an uncomfortable image of emotional detachment as he begins to admit to his crimes with cold candour. For the sake of humour and impact, the discourse for this character is deliberately over-the-top. Unfortunately, however, it comes across as an insensitive and exaggerated, if not offensive stereotypical depiction.

The two roles of the policeman interrogating Katurian, are played by Steve Pemberton and Paul Kaye. They add an important layer of dark humour, and whilst Pemberton’s character requires less range, Kay is able to humanise and soften the initially aggressive, violent ‘bad cop’ role. There is a clear nod to further depth and intrigue for both characters.

At times, the shock factor feels excessive, and with more than a few overdramatic moments, the audience might struggle to remain committed throughout. However, this production brings to life the emotional intensity of an unapologetically dark and twisted tale and leaves a strong, lasting impression on its audience.