Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman is a strange little tale. In a totalitarian regime a writer in arrested because children have been being murdered in the same way as depicted in his stories. But this is far from a simple little yarn, revealing stories within stories about stories told in story form. Think 1984 meets the Brothers Grimm with bad language.

On stage we are watching two worlds; the ‘real’ one is a prison in which the police have total control of life and death and the writer finds himself in the nightmare scenario of being arrested without apparent reason. The other world is that of the stories he has written. And yet, inevitably perhaps, there is more of the truth in the stories and something of story in the truth. “A story-teller’s only obligation is to tell a story” to which perhaps this play adds the proviso “and make sure that the stories survive”. Questions are being raised here about a writer’s right to tell any and all stories and about the responsibility that that freedom implies, fortunately no pat answers.

The main cast consists of the writer Katurian (Lee Ingleby), his ‘slow’ brother Michael (Edward Higg) and the good cop / bad cop combo played by Jim Norton and Ewan Stewart. Ingleby has truly found the nature of the storyteller, engaging us quietly and intimately whilst remaining credible as the wronged writer and the loving brother. A hugely watchable performance matched by Norton’s Tupolski, a rounded, odd, at times funny, but essentially malevolent character.

The other cast members, Mother (Victoria Pembroke), Father (Mike Sherman), Boy (Jordan Metcalfe) and Girl (Bryony Hannah) enact some of the stories in full colour silent movie style and whilst they may be considered minor roles what they actually bring to the production an other-worldliness – access to Katurian’s head allowing us to see the clear, clean story-book world he is re-creating in his work.

The staging is excellent with the cold, dirty police cells being broken into by colourful, quirky scenes like pictures from a children’s book. Impressive though they are, the stage effects never overtake the story, simply enhancing it.

There was much laughter during the show, a few screams and some pin dropping silences. This is a really remarkable and truly enjoyable piece of theatre that will stay with me for a long time.

- Robert Iles (reviewed at Oxford Playhouse Theatre)