Review: Disco Pigs, Trafalgar Studios ‘Still Unnerving, Twenty Years Later’

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I loved Disco Pigs. This seminal Enda Walsh play first opened twenty years ago, and it has lost little of its unnerving and unsettling potency.

It is a form of rites-of passage play centred around two friends Pig (Colin Campbell) and Runt (Evanna Lynch), who have been inseparable since they were born in the same minute of the same day in the same hospital in Cork seventeen years before. But theirs is a strange and toxic relationship. The pair revel in their outsider status. They are aggressive to all, whether they are family or foe. They’re bound together by a voracious anger, share a common private vernacular, finish each other’s sentences, and they define themselves through their aggression and eye-watering levels of casual violence.

But as their joint seventeenth birthday approaches, sexual awakenings, emotional maturation, and the way of the adult world threaten to rupture this friendship for good. But not before it comes to a terrible head.

This two-hander makes for a real challenge for its two actors and Evanna Lynch and Colin Campbell certainly take that challenge on with gusto. The two flow together in perfectly executed choreography throughout almost the whole play (credit to Movement Director, Naomi Said, and Director, John Haidar, for this). They are like a wave of water, ebbing and flowing across the stage, briefly separating but then always returning to each other’s side, like a tide. This gives the production an energy, one that is whipped up at moments of intense adrenalin alcohol-fuelled highs when the soundtrack gets ramped up to ten, and the anger and energy bursts out, uncontained, in a terrifying spiralling fury. Like a dam breaching, like a tsunami breaking over the land.

Perhaps the violence may not be as visceral as it could be, or as agonising as it apparently was in the original – though it’s still enough to make you wince in places. True, this isn’t quite at the levels of say, A Clockwork Orange but that, to me, brought a different angle to this production, that of two kids realising the extent to which they are out of their depth in the adult world. Their viciousness and brutality may have worked in the limited horizons of their world to date, but in the wider adult world of Ireland in the 1990s, and the world of the IRA (“the Provos”), these kids are small fry.

This transition to adulthood is painful, but it’s the contrasting moments of emotional depth that really tug at the heartstrings. These are kids with burgeoning emotions they can’t control or understand. Where one battles with what feels like love, the other is struggling with a sense of exclusion, of being remote from a life that they can see around them, that they crave…but they cannot live. These kids are on the margins and the scales are beginning to fall from their eyes.

This is a terrific revival at Trafalgar Studios and if you, like me, were too young to see the original, or just missed it first time around, this is one I’d definitely recommend seeing. It sticks with you. Horrible and beautiful.

Trafalgar Studios, London, to August 19th.
Tickets from £15.

All production images by Alex Brenner.

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