The Pillowman’s Rattling of the Cage

The Pillowman 

The Pillowman demands that you ask questions of yourself – of what you too might be capable

The first premier of The Pillowman was in London in 2003, which means the play has now waited a tragic dozen years for its first full circuit on the Irish theatre stage; why the wait, you must be wondering? 12 years..? This is a play written by Martin McDonagh, one of the most exciting homo sapien playwrights alive, after all.

And even if, lamentably, the written word is becoming more and more inaccessible to the modern flash-loving brain, that’s fine with this writer; you still may know his work from frequenting one of Ireland’s many Moving Picture Houses – In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are among the fruits of his imagination and labours.

So, I ask again: why must we wait twelve years to enjoy this work of Mr. McDonagh’s in his ancestral home, a work that has been interpreted, performed, consumed and subsequently lauded in Tehran, Paris, Buenos Aires, London, New York, Seoul, Ankara, Brisbane? A hangover from a Catholic past perhaps: one year for Matthew, one for John, and so on?

The play is dark, violent, utterly comical and gripping from end to end. However, this does not explain the wait… I suspect there is one reason in particular it has lurked largely unloved in the corners of University Libraries across this islet without seeing the light of the stage for so long, and that it is the very same thing which gives the play its extraordinary power: its stark exposition of the contrasting hues which make up the human being.

At the same time as being an introspective essay on the state of the mind of The Writer, constantly questioning and doubting and criticising oneself, it is also a celebration of pure imagination.

And, at the same time as being a celebration of the power and possibilities granted by the imagination, it is a liberating trumpet-call to reality; a challenge to accept and ponder the actuality of our own nature, even if only for the duration of the play.


We live, most of us, a sheltered existence. Rarely, if ever, do we face the reality of ourselves and our world. When over the course of a couple of days 166 dozen Africans are slaughtered in their homes it doesn’t make the middle pages of our newspapers let alone become a conversation piece, but when a single dozen Europeans are killed that same week, we buy t-shirts and tweet.

Why the horribly weighted reactions? Well, briefly, because it is too close to home; it upsets, for a time at least, our limited conception of what goes on in the world.

In the same way The Pillowman reaches underneath the belly of what we consider, going about our ordinary First World lives, to be our own nature. The smothering, chopping, electrocuting, battering, nailing, cutting, all wrapped up in the most delicious and titillating of humour, tears apart the façade of civilised society, grabs the voyeur by the neck and fixes her in her seat.

To the loyal adherent of popular culture as it stands today, Jersey Factor etc, the play might seem brutal, twisted, almost vulgar. But to any thinking human who wishes to contemplate the world a little deeper, who can laugh at our animal nature, the play will prove to be an incredibly invigorating delve into the non-fake, the real, the actual.

Perhaps we here in Old Éire (in tribute to our mystical past) have waited a dozen years in order to avoid any superstitious pitfalls, while we work up the courage to face ourselves?

Or, perhaps a little more plausibly and exactly as Gerry Barnes cogently and soundly explains in his piece, maybe there has been some difficulty in obtaining the rights to a full run of the play. But an aspiring young iconoclast can dream, can’t he?

Why not check out The Pillowman’s tour page for more information on this tour. If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy our Character Synopsis for The Pillowman, or our article on The Role of Violence in The PillowmanThe Pillowman will open in Galway Town Hall Theatre on the 19th February, in The Gaiety Theatre on March 2nd, The Everyman on March 16th,  and in The Lyric Theatre on the 24th of March in 2015.

David McSavage

Martin McDonagh



The Pillowman Ticketsbutton (13)





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