2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Enda Walsh’s ‘Disco Pigs’, a play that has spawned various stage and screen adaptations since its debut at Cork’s Triskel Arts Centre in 1996 (which technically makes it the 21st anniversary, but we’re apparently counting from its first major showing at the Edinburgh Festival the following year). To mark the anniversary, whichever it is, Trafalgar Studios are going back to basics with a stripped down bare studio production.
Pig and Runt were born within minutes of each other in the same Cork hospital ward. They grew up closer than siblings, closer that twins, an incestuous blood pact made amongst the sweat and tears of labour. Inhabiting their own private world, they create their own language: an irreverent hypnotic sexy-stupid mix of Cork dialect, teen slang, and something that is just them. Years later, in thrall to the hormonal roller-coaster and the sheer unadulterated thrill of being 17 (17! 17! 17!) they are lose on the town, their internal Narnia crashing into reality as a growing awareness of adulthood and its pressures (read: SEX) threatens their weirdly innocent lives of clubbing, petty crime, and above all else, music.
John Haidar’s revival is a straightforward take on a twenty-year-old text that has lost none of its power. Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch bring a delightfully child-like energy and enthusiasm to a play that merges physical theatre with baroque language. The production is at its best when the characters simply rejoice in being together and being that magical 17; stumbling into the Holy Land that is the local nightclub, or jumping up from the floor (has some scientist studied why it’s so insanely comfortable to watch TV sprawled belly down on the carpet until you hit about 19, when it immediately becomes excruciating?) to ape Baywatch as they watch “beautiful” Pamela Anderson on the stage’s only prop, a boxy telly. When the action takes the characters into the outside world, the production doesn’t doesn’t quite realise the full menace and disruption of the text. Perhaps it is that the production is too good at painting Pig and Runt’s private world. Whenever the real world intrudes, as when an outing to a local pub ends with them being rudely shoved aside by Sinn Fein members, the resultant violence (actual, or threatened) feels somehow dreamlike.
Music is the strong point and saving grace to a perfectly good but not especially original production. Mixing high art and low, music rules, whether it’s a classical accompaniment to a dinner grunted up off the floor, or Pig’s lovelorn karaoke (the Ronette’s ‘Be My Baby’; poignant) overlaying Runt’s brutal beating. For anyone born, like I was, in the 1980s, this production is a shot of pure weaponised musical nostalgia. Every song you remember and don’t remember from your teenage years blasts into your brain as the strobe lights and dry ice drive you mad, or at least to hallucinating that you’re in a music video. It’s an odd experience, watching plays from your coming of age period (ah, the 90s) in today’s era of ultra commodified nostalgia. Of course not everyone in the audience will have been a teen in the late 90s, but the experience of being a teenager is universal. Disco Pigs is a play that works on different levels. This production doesn’t succeed on all of them, but it manages to capture the lighting in a bottle intense sweetness and rage of adolescence.