Friday, July 21, 2017

Review: 'Disco Pigs' at Trafalgar Studios, 19th July 2017

Disco Pigs reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Pig and Runt are at the top of the food chain. They met as newborns on the Cork City maternity ward and have been inseparable for the following 17 years. Their stomping grounds are pubs, offies and nightclubs: their lives a tsunami of cheap booze, dance music and a touch of the old ultraviolence. Feeling isolated in a snooty world they cling to each other, diving deep into Bonnie and Clyde self-mythology as they transcend depressing reality and become rock star super-criminal outlaws.

The pair form a single chaotic organism: emotionally, physically and behaviourally intertwined. And yet cracks are beginning to form. Pig is battling with strong romantic inclinations towards Runt, but she considers him more of a brother than a lover. And then there are the moments where she seems to sense a world beyond dingy urban streets and sulphuric cider. Things are going to boil over between them at some point, and this play shows us how it goes down.

Disco Pigs premiered at the 1997 Edinburgh Festival to critical acclaim, leaving audiences and promoters goggle-eyed. A two-year world tour, a West End production and a feature film followed. And then the play submerged, only popping its head above water for periodic revivals. And so to Trafalgar Studios, where director John Haidar and stars Evanna Lynch and Colin Campbell find out what Disco Pigs feels like 20 years later.

The answer is a satisfyingly retro. Leaving aside the excellent soundtrack for a moment, Disco Pigs taps into a specifically 1990s misanthropy, delivering the romanticised, predatory thrills you see in Natural Born Killers, True Romance and Funny Games (and their common ancestor, Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange). Looking back, this predilection for 'cool' characters slaughtering anyone who stands in their way to an on point soundtrack looks like a bad case of pre millennial tension - with the West in a state of relative peace and prosperity the most satisfying prick to kick against was apparently everyday tedium.

Designer Richard Kent provides a stark backdrop to the action - a bare stage with a malleable curtain at the rear and glowing telly in the corner. Lighting wise it's a show of harsh primary coloured washes, Runt and Pig glowing radioactive green or red as they tear their way through an off license or kick in the teeth of any unfortunate victim who gets in their way. Later in the show, they deploy a fantastic laser, leaving a psychedelic curtain of shifting light above the actors.

Trafalgar Studios 2 is a relatively small performance space, but such minimal staging is still risky, requiring the performers to do the heavy lifting. Fortunately, Lynch and Campbell hurl themselves into the roles like it's their last night on earth, Pig and Run a multicoloured Tasmanian Devil style whirlwind of Adidas, sneers and flailing limbs. 

Underneath all the testosterone bluster, Campbell's Pig is quietly sad performance, battling his desires and gradually realising that bravado just isn't cutting it anymore. He gets long moments in the spotlight as he dances to a blistering playlist of 90s dance hits - not giving a shit as he throws shapes with a determined expression. You can see on his face the gradual realisation that Runt is evolving in a different direction, leaving Pig struggling to maintain the status quo.

But Lynch is no slouch. Her Runt is a wirily electric harlequin, her face alternating between a performative punk sneer and wistful glances off into the horizon. Both characters are stuck in the Red Queen's dilemma - running as fast as they can to stay in the same place - yet Lynch's Runt is beginning to realise that there's more to life than this endless cycle of noxious booze and mindless violence. 

Bold, uncompromising plays like this are what I go the theatre for and I enjoyed every minute of Disco Pigs (honestly, I'd enjoy any production that plays most of Underworld's Rez). It took me a couple of minutes to pick up the lingo, but as soon as you figure out what the characters are on about the play rattles on with ever-increasing momentum. It's a damn good time is what it is.

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