Martin McDonagh is an Irish playwright and screenwriter who is considered to be one of Ireland’s most important contemporary voices. McDonagh is known for his unique mix of black comedy and horrific violence, and is often compared to filmmakers Quentin Tarantino and Sam Peckinpah. As a playwright, McDonagh’s cunning use of language and unique storytelling style could be compared to Harold Pinter. McDonagh’s use of satire is no-holds-barred: the butts of his jokes range from Irish Catholicism to pedophiles to nationalism to the IRA. His play, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, was considered so excessively violent that the two major theatres in the UK, the National and the Royal Court, initially refused to stage it. Particularly problematic for the British audiences was McDonagh’s spot-on critique of Irish Nationalists.
Ireland features prominently in McDonagh’s early work, which includes two cycles of plays, each set in a small Irish town. The first cycle, which includes the plays The Beauty Queen of Leenane (1996), A Skull in Connemara (1997) and The Lonesome West (1997), is set in Leenane, a town on the west coast of Ireland. , while. The second cycle, which includes The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2001), The Cripple of Inishmaan (1997), and The Banshees of Inisheer (unpublished), are set in rural areas in the islands off the coast of Galway. The Pillowman (2003) was McDonagh’s first play set outside of Ireland.
While McDonagh’s earlier plays featured place so strongly it almost became a character unto itself, The Pillowman is set in an unnamed totalitarian state, without any identifying national characteristics. This forces the audience to remove all expectations and understanding and surrender entirely to a world in which anything is possible. The Pillowman was inspired by McDonagh’s own experience composing fairy tales (some of which became the basis for the stories Katurian writes.)
McDonagh followed The Pillowman with another play set outside of Ireland; A Behanding in Spokane takes place in the United States. It premiered on Broadway in 2010, and earned its star, Christopher Walken, a Tony Award nomination. McDonagh’s prolific film work includes Six Shooter (which him won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay in 2006), In Bruges (2008), and Seven Psychopaths (2012).
The Pillowman premiered at the National Theatre in London on November 13, 2003. The production was directed by John Crowley and featured David Tennant (Katurian), Jim Broadbent (Tupolski), Nigel Lindsay (Ariel), and Adam Godley (Michal). It received the 2004 Olivier Award for Best Play. The Pillowman opened on Broadway on April 10, 2005, and retained director John Crowley. The cast featured Billy Crudup (Katurian), Jeff Goldblum (Tupolski), Zeljko Ivanek (Ariel), Michael Stuhlbarg (Michal), Ted Koch (Father), Virginia Louise Smith (Mother), Jesse Shane Bronstein (Boy), and Madeleine Martin (Girl). It was nominated for the 2005 Tony Award for Best New Play.