[author-post-rating] (4/5 stars)
Packed with ingenuity and visual brilliance, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is a dark, inverted fairytale, sprung from the mind of Tom Baker and staged by Kill the Beast theatre company. The multi-roleing cast sparkle with wickedness as they unfold the terrible tale of Robert Caligari, a 13-year-old boy with a passion for kicking pigs.
Robert will kick any pig he sees, even pork-chops freshly wrapped by the butcher – but his favourite targets belong to his sister Nerys, who has had an array of beloved pig-themed items booted by her brother. When one particular kicking causes an accident, Robert decides that he is a murderer, which is, of course, great – and it’s Nerys’s piggy bank Trevor who pipes up to point out that he isn’t really, not yet. He’s just a boy who kicked a pig: there’s a few steps he’ll need to follow if he wants to be a real murderer.
The design of the show is remarkable, a symphony in grey, with grey face-painted actors in grey clothes standing in front of beautiful grey projections designed by Bryan Woltjen. The projections are detailed backdrops in lieu of a set, that move and sometimes transition into other sets through lovely animations. They’re also full of real attention to detail – like the line of clocks on the wall of a newsroom, labelled ‘Kent’, ‘Margate’, ‘Skegness’, all of which tell the same time. The whole thing has the cumulative effect of evoking the eerie little line-drawings that accompany Tom Baker’s original novella.
The humour is pitch black and feels reminiscent of a range of influences, from the grey streets and shawl-headed women of certain Yorkshire-based Monty Python sketches, to the comic grotesques of The League of Gentlemen, with as a touch of early Tim Burton animations thrown in. Kill the Beast plays on all these images and feel aware of them without being derivative; indeed, they manage to take all this and run with it, ending up with a show that feels cohesive and complete, full of wit and horror.
Similarly to their credit, proceedings are broken up by a couple of songs constructed from repeated phrases, which makes feel like part of the fabric of the thing. Not just, as can sometimes feel like the case, chucked in because the company happen to be musical.
The story itself isn’t all that remarkable, as it rattles on inevitably towards a gory end, but the whole thing is littered with well-rendered humour and performed by an excellent cast. It’s worth particularly noting David Cumming, who plays the Pig-Kicker of the title with hand-rubbing glee and a glint in his eyes, but there is genuinely impressive physicality and vocal work from the all the performers, as a range of well-established characters. This is inventive, visually stunning stuff, made with a love and awareness of what has gone before – and in this respect, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs wears its beating, cold black heart on its sleeve. Great, very grisly fun.
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs can be seen every day at Pleasance Courtyard, until 14th August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.