Review: Disco Pigs

With its bizarre language, penchant for violence, and portrayal of an insular and dangerous youthful society, Enda Walsh’s play Disco Pigs is of the same ilk as Anthony Burgess’s infamous A Clockwork Orange. Currently showing at the lovely Tristan Bates Theatre, Blue Crate Theatre – a new company made up of recent Bristol Old Vic theatre school graduates – pull out all possible psychedelic stops to make this production an explosion of noise, colour and animalistic vitality.

There is much to commend in this imaginative retelling of a friendship ruined by unrequited love. From Max Dorey’s fabulous graffitied set, to the consummate ease with which its two inhabitants fill it and captivate our attention, the production’s inventiveness is matched by all round professionalism. As the play progresses, we see the skill with which both Edmund Digby-Jones as Pig and Lorna Jinks as Runt can manipulate a variety of emotions and tempos. Digby-Jones’ usual crazy mania made his longing for Runt all the more poignant, his prowess at the puppy-dog eyes act encapsulated by his superb description of his sexual desire for her. Jinks as Runt likewise oscillated brilliantly between laughter and pensiveness, delicately building up a sense that she was growing up and out of the bubble-like world she and Pig had formed for themselves.

Damagingly, however, this exposé of both characters didn’t happen for the first half an hour. Instead, the start saw us bombarded with an unrelentingly fast-paced, high-energy, manic piece that seemed to have very little plot. The new language, insufficiently clear diction, unfamiliar accents, and variety of narrative techniques employed (actors rapidly shifted in and out of speech and third person narration), all combine to make for a confusing beginning. We really needed director Anna Simpson to give us a few more pointers to help us work out what was going on. As such, the first part was simply not lucid enough and so the effective parts – for example the guttural noises and animalistic eating – felt more like ingredients to be appreciated individually than contributions to a coherent whole.

When more of a plot (and some much-needed silences) began to emerge, Simpson’s directorial capabilities shone through more clearly. From offering Runt ketchup, to his subtle positioning behind her and postures chosen, little touches conveyed Pig’s adoration with wonderful simplicity. Most indicative of the cast and crew’s talent was how completely they managed to manipulate my emotions for two very similar scenes: early on in the play, I had felt almost immune to the violence when Pig pretended to be a jealous boyfriend and beat up one of Runt’s admirers for fun; however, in an almost identical rerun at the play’s end, when he did so out of true jealousy and against Runt’s wishes, the scene felt horrifyingly and unwatchably brutal.

While the play does feel rather overly indebted to A Clockwork Orange, and Simpson’s start and the difficult-to-follow accents are very problematic, Dirty Pig showcases real talent in an innovative, interesting, and very colourful production. The cast put their all into it (as you can tell by the almost inhuman quantities of sweat and spit coming from Digby-Jones) and once Blue Crate Theatre’s hiccups are ironed out with more professional productions, I have no doubt that this exciting new company will be an integral part of London’s future.

Disco Pigs is playing at Tristan Bates Theatre until Saturday 8September. For more information and tickets please see the Tristan Bates Theatre website.

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