The Pillowman held its media night on Saturday, September 22. It was a red carpet event hosted at the MAD school of music and dance which has been converted into a theatre till October 7. Originally an award-winning play by Martin McDonagh, the play was brought to audiences in Karachi in an adaptation produced by Nida Butt.
The newest and strangest thing about the play was how much it fed into Sartre’s concept of The Gaze. The seating is arranged so that it’s on either side of the stage and you get to watch people watching you watch the play and vice versa. So if you intend to review the play this is ideal as you get to see the audience react in real life to what is happening on stage.
This is favourable to the intense tone the production is trying to achieve. Usually the actors don’t show up on stage until after the audience has stopped milling about. Here however, there are no curtains to signal the beginning or end of a scene. It just happens. There’s a person next to the entrance switching the lights on or off as required. One would imagine this entire refusal to hide the mechanics that go into the makings of a play would kill any presumed promise of escapism, yet this is not the case.
As you enter you see a man sitting with a hood/pillowcase over his head. There are no handcuffs on his wrists, there are no shackles binding his feet. He’s just sitting there, with a pillowcase over his head. He isn’t moving. Or speaking. If he’s breathing, it’s very discreet. The reaction to this from the audience was that they seemed to forget he was there after a while. Again, favourable. As from this stationary scene the play suddenly ambushes you with action.Arriving viewers will walk into the theatre space to see a mysterious, hooded actor waiting silently on an interrogating table even before the play has begun. - Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com
The plot is a little bit like Basic Instinct. Essentially the author, named Katurian [Rouvan Mahmud] writes a story, someone in real life gets murdered the way the characters in the story do and everyone thinks the author did it. However they keep up the intrigue by acting out some of the stories that Katurian writes. The director and protagonist, Rouvan Mahmud adapts Pillowman for a more Pakistani space. There is of course the hint of Katurian being persecuted by a faceless empire, pointing towards McCarthyism or the reign of Zia Ul Haq, however that interpretation has been left up to the audience.Imam Syed as police officer "Israel" roughly interrogates Katurian during the play as detective Gibrael looks on. - Photo by Nadir Siddiqui/Dawn.com
Momin Zafar plays the eccentric detective who is delightfully energetic, despite the limited space. His eccentric character is opposed by Imam Syed who at first is all fire and brimstone but then you get to see his humane side. Rafeh Mahmud’s performance was indubitably exceptional. It’s always challenging to play someone of very different or deficient mental capabilities but he not only made you believe his character, but made you think it was effortless to perform it. There were admittedly several little faux pas but as Nida Butt said, they had only rehearsed the play about twenty times.