Martin McDonagh burst on to the scene in the mid-1990s with a series of black comedies rooted in traditional Irish rural drama.
While its comedy is even darker, The Pillowman takes us into different territory. The setting is a police state where two detectives are interrogating a writer about child murders which resemble his macabre fairy tales.
A big hit at the National Theatre and winner of the Olivier Award for best new play, The Pillowman is a virtuoso piece which can be peeled, onion-like, to suggest many influences, from Kafka to Tarantino.
In fact, Tarantino is a useful reference, not only because the play includes fleeting images of horror of the kind usually associated with cinema, but because McDonagh?s focus is on another dramatic ingredient generally neglected in the theatre: a sheer, what-next narrative drive which has the audience, heart-in-mouth, on the edge of its seat.
So, enough said about how the story unfolds, or the role played by the writer?s handicapped brother.
During the course of the play a number of self-contained stories are told, a highlight being the one by the senior detective, Tupolski, about a deaf boy walking along a railway track, which symbolically represents his view of police work.
Beneath the surface lurk issues of the moral responsibility of writers when they turn to themes of violence and cruelty. But in this play perhaps more than McDonagh?s others, the surface really seems to be the point.
In this re-staging of the National?s production I missed some of the crackling sense of the ridiculous which leaps off the page in McDonagh?s dialogue. But then comedy is perhaps not helped when an audience denied a familiar moral set-up is a little apprehensive about laughing.
Running time: Two hours, 40 minutes. Until Saturday.