Pigs on the Shelf

Enda Walsh: Disco Pigs, Trafalgar Studios, London (Director: John Haidar)

By Sascha Krieger

About twenty years ago, the theatre world was swept by a new energy infusion courtesy of a few „young and wild“ playwrights from both sides of the Irish sea. Authors such as Mark Ravenhill, David Harrower or Martin Crimp put a high-paced hyper-reality on stage that was part unpolished, raw, previously hidden life, the life of a youth not recognised, not noticed, discarded, and part rhythmic celebration, a vertigo of lust and longing and violence, a rush of adrenaline and every puberty-driving hormone imaginable. The Irish voice – and perhaps its most radical one, too – of this „generation“ was Cork playwright. Enda Walsh. Long before he was dabbling with musicals, he gave us Disco Pigs: a wild, unique trip into the state of emergency that is the teenage brain and body. In it, two 17-year-olds, inseparable since their births at exactly the same time, drift, dance and punch themselves through their shared birthday. They do so in what seems like a long feverish dream, a rhythmic song, a drug-induced trip that will change their symbiotic relationship forever. Part Cork accent, part private fantasy language, part fairy tale between beat-style poetry and rhythmic prose, part energy-rich chamber play, Disco Pigs was an unashamed ride through unfulfilled longing, the despair that leads to people seeking someone to hold on to, the darkness that awaits those living on the side of the moon sunlight will never reach.

Trafalgar Studios (Image: Sascha Krieger)

20 years later, it seems time to revisit „Pork City“, as Darren and Sinéad who call themselves in a secret conspiracy against the world „Pig“ and „Runt“ have renamed their city. From the go, director John Haidar emphasises the playfulness of Walsh’s imaginative play. The birth scene with which it starts is childplay at its best. Through makeshift vaginas in a rough stage curtain, Pig and Runt enter the world which, clad in Nineties jumpsuits of elaborate ugliness, they’re determined to make theirs. Evanna Lynch, best known as Luna Lovegood from the Harry Potter films, plays Runt, quietly, determined, with just a hint of that otherwordly dreamy look she so famously built her film character around. Colin Campbell plays the other half of the (self-)destructive duo. A ball of nervous energy, always a little over the top in his joy and happiness as well as his fear and rage, he is the perfect torn teenager as seen through the eyes of heavily Clockwork Orange influenced perspective. His Pig is always on the edge, often beyond it, ready to explode at any given moment. As they plough themselves through mischievous pranks, gratuitous violence to kill the time and prevent the numbness, moments of the sheer joy of a life beginning to take off, as Runt aims to grow, to develop, to move, and Pig to conserve, to hold on, to stand still.

Yet, the directness, the unfiltered energy, the uncompromising brutality of life the play was filled with 20 years ago, never more so than in CorcaDorca’s original production that showcased a young Cillian Murphy as Pig, is missing which is mainly due to John Haidar’s direction. He places the play plainly in the time of its origin. The music, the cultural influences, the clothes are so deliberately mid-90s that they sometimes have an almost museum-like feel about them. What they certainly do is create distance. Much of the production feels less like a contemporary trip through the psyche of a lost generation than a fading memory, gilded by a glaze-eye look back into a past injected with the mildness of nostalgia. Campbell’s grimacing face, his taut body resembling a bow about to shoot an arrow, his nervous restlessness become less of the panicked despair of a boy trying not to miss his moment, should it ever come, but more of the longing panic of someone trying to hold on to a memory of youth and the sense of having been somebody once, no matter how insignificant. Unfortunately, his over the top excitedness and Lynch’s decidedly low-key, at times almost cold and detached quietness fail to produce energy. They simply do not really click, are more pretend than expressions of anything real.

The distance also softens the edges. While the playful humour is accentuated and milked of every last drop of its impact, the dark side is a lot brighter than it used to be, the more serious aspects recede into the background. Violence is made more palatable in playful choreographies while the final conflict with Runt desiring to move on and Pig refusing to do so is hardly more than a rough sketch here. After all, if everything is just a memory, moving ahead isn’t really an option. So this anniversary production answers the question about the play’s relevance today in a rather ambivalent way. While the power of Walsh’s unique poetry of hormonal confusion and mental ambiguity is clearly visible and at least Colin Campbell is doing a great job at displaying the radical nervousness of youth while Lynch’s quieter confusion could have provided a more contemporary note had Haidar found a better way of connecting these two, his choice of placing the play clearly in an almost cartoonish simplification of the 1990s robs it of a lot of its impact. While still a sight to behold, this production of Disco Pigs remains on the shelf of the museum of the 1990s.

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