It’s funny what we’ll laugh at. Context has a lot to do with it. I usually don’t find torture and the murder of children especially amusing.
But in the context of a finely produced, thought provoking play, I apparently do.
Director Luke Rogers’ production of Martin McDonagh’s play is a top night of theatre. The cast is uniformly excellent.
The Pillowman explores storytelling. Katurian is being interrogated about his fiction. What drives him to tell stories? What are the consequences of listening to them?
The answer is a rather vicious circle. It’s what the world inflicts on us that drives us to create stories. And our stories, in turn, affect how we see the world, and what we inflict on it.
In The Pillowman, all of the characters write stories, tell stories, or eagerly listen to them – with, admittedly, some pretty dreadful consequences.
The play presents us as a story driven species.
And that’s a story we’ve been telling ourselves quite a bit lately. It’s the idea behind much of post-war European philosophy and contemporary American pragmatism.
Of course, it’s not the only story we can tell ourselves.
I often think that the difference between conservatives and progressives is summed up in their attitudes to narrative.
The progressives acknowledge that we tell ourselves stories, all the time. And they tell the tale that all stories are equal.
The conservatives assert there’s only one story, but argue about which one it is. And prefer to call it The Truth.
I tell myself I’m a progressive. It’s a story that boosts my ego.
But, after 140 minutes of high stakes storytelling, The Pillowman left me feeling that perhaps I’m neither progressive or conservative. It left me feeling that maybe there is something to Zen Buddhism and the ideas of Simone Weil. It left me feeling that perhaps we need to learn to shut the f*#*# up.
This is not a criticism. You gotta pay a play that’s utterly absorbing in performance and deeply troubling in the days that follow.
But The Pillowman did make me question the value of stories. It made me feel that perhaps we need to learn to stop the chatter, that maybe we need to learn to be quiet, and wait.
at New Theatre til 13 April