Surely, I make a conscious effort to feed myself three times a day—or more, as statistics proves against my conviction—because I have biological needs to do so. Similarly, you may choose to abandon the idea of having lunch at Koufu because your stomach threatens to swallow itself whole if you insist on joining the long queue. There seems to be underlying reasons for our actions, or even explanations for the phenomena that occurs around us.
But, are there really?
The Pillowman, along with the whole theatre of the absurd, challenges our profound predisposition to logicality. Below are some points on why The Pillowman was indefinitely intriguing, and how to best appreciate it as an absurdist play such that you don’t end up asking, “What are you talking about, The Pillowman?”
Image by Pangdemonium
Firstly, The Pillowman is remarkable because of its noble plot, which shines light on the often-silenced issue of child abuse in the context of family, and interestingly, psychological experimentation. To give you a brief overview, the play revolves around a writer in a fictional authoritarian state, who is called into interrogation for the alarming similarities between the gruesome stories that he writes and the ongoing crimes against children in the area. As if there were not enough to intrigue, the play also discusses pertinent issues such as police brutality, social marginalization, and parental abuse. With its provoking substance, The Pillowman definitely does not disappoint.
The Pillowman offers a fresh perspective as it forces you to inspect the absurdist world of the play and, by extension, the world in which we live in. The Oxford Dictionary defines absurdism as “the belief that human beings exist in a purposeless, chaotic universe”. If you pondered over it enough, you would start to realize the truths in this concept. The universe seemingly occurs in its natural entropy. It is us, however, the stubborn beings, who maintain that there are some logical mechanics that underpin this vast disorder. In line with this, The Pillowman neglects a play’s traditional duty to pursue a definitive conclusion. It challenges us as an audience to forego our innate instinct to find meaning in every meaningless detail of the play. It compels us to accept that there is no predetermined end that the play will lead to. In this respect, the play forces us to let go, and appreciate the moments of the play for what they truly are.
When you go to a play that is as absurdist in nature as The Pillowman is, go with these three points in mind:
Accept that the play will not necessarily lead to any conclusion
Do not expect realism because the play does not promise that.
The level of absurdity presented may be… absurd. You can, however, meaningfully reflect on its absurdity by comparing it to the status quo. That is after all, principally its purpose.
It is not common for a play of such high caliber and unconventionality to be staged in Singapore. Some of us were lucky enough to have experienced this Tony Award-Winning play. Some of us however, may have unfortunately missed the final curtain call on Sunday. If so, fret not, for there will almost certainly be a next time!