Twenty years after its debut, Disco Pigs still crackles with life and energy. The play needs two crackerjack performances and it gets it. But its unswerving fidelity to the Cork accent renders portions of the text chiefly unintelligible.
It was in 1997 when Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs exploded onto the Edinburgh fringe and since then there has been a film version, released in 2001 and several revivals, most recently at the Young Vic in 2011. The latest revival has just opened at the Trafalgar Studios starring Colin Campbell as Pig and Evanna Lynch as Runt.
The play has lost none of its ability to hold an audience riveted. In the rare moments of silence in this crazy, hallucinatory maelstrom of a play, you could have heard a pin drop in the tiny Studio Two. It was that most delicious sound theatre possesses: rich, full, rapt silence.
Pig and Runt are born on the same day in 1979 in working class Cork City – which they christen Pork City. They grow up as neighbours and are utterly inseparable. In one of their childhood games Darren plays a pig and calls Sinead his runt; the names stick.
By their teen years, they have become two halves of the same person, inhabiting their own private world with its particular language and rituals. They have no need of anybody else and don’t seek anybody else.
They get drunk together, watch TV together, eat Chinese takeaway together and go to the disco together. If an adult were around, they’d surely get uncomfortable and think the symbiosis these two disaffected teenagers share deeply unhealthy.
Indeed, there are dark shadows lurking around the corner. Runt watches contentedly as Pig indulges his increasing taste for savage beatings, and even lures victims to their fate. Moreover, these are teenagers and sex is bound to crash into their world at some stage. When it does, the safe self-sufficient place Pig and Runt have built begins to crumble.
Runt begins to dream of a world outside Cork City, symbolised by admittance to the swanky Palace Disco, but all Pig wants is Runt. This way disaster lies.
This 75 minute two-hander is performed on an empty stage in which Campbell and Lynch make us believe there is a pub, a disco, an off licence, a beach and a living room. The only prop is a TV set and one wonders if they even need that – though it does play a part in the play’s denouement.
The whole piece is performed by Campbell and Lynch with a mesmerising, manic brio, the two of them almost literally bouncing off the walls. There’s a disco dancing tour de force from Campbell in the Palace which is both funny and troubling. Here’s a cauldron of a boy, bursting with rage and need.
It’s pure theatre, which asks the audience’s imagination to create the visual and literal world these two inhabit, and also like nothing else you’ve ever seen before.
Pig and Runt are the principals and also narrators of their story, sometimes talking to each other and other times directly to the audience – sometimes invoked mockingly as “drama fans” or “soap fans”. They also talk their own language, which Walsh composed for this play, and which sometimes has echoes of Under Milk Wood and sometimes Jabberwocky. Yet such is the power of the piece that you buy it completely.
In spite of its extraordinariness, the themes are ones for the ages. It’s about the pain and loneliness of growing up, the need for love, and how fruitless and destructive the search to meet that need often is. “What colour is love?” asks Runt, just before she has another drinking contest with Pig.
The only criticism to be made and the only factor that prevents this being a four star review is the Cork accents are so impenetrable and delivered at such velocity that large portions of the dialogue were, to this reviewer, completely unintelligible.
Cork accents are a law unto themselves, often confusing to other Irish people born only forty or fifty miles away. I assume that the actors, both of whom are Irish, render them authentically and faithfully. And while the decision to seek complete truthfulness is in many ways to be applauded, particularly where accents are concerned, the audience has to be considered too.
If the audience is separated from the production by inability to hear the words, then a play has failed in its task to communicate. And that’s a shame because there is so much in this production to admire.