Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs begins with its two characters reenacting their births – on the same day, in the same hospital – as they squeeze head first through a gap in the curtains. This original, funny and slightly grotesque opening sets the scene for what follows – a story that will amuse, shock and move us all at the same time.
Fast forward… and those same two characters, who we now know refer to themselves as Pig (Colin Campbell) and Runt (Evanna Lynch) are turning 17. They’ve been inseparable their whole lives, to the exclusion of everyone else – but now adulthood is looming on the horizon, is it possible they might be heading down different paths? Maybe – but not before one last wild night out at the legendary Palace Disco… What could go wrong?
The effect of Disco Pigs overall is rather dizzying. The pace of John Haidar’s production rarely lets up, and there’s so much going on from a physical, linguistic, emotional and even symbolic point of view, that it’s difficult to decide what to deal with first. The final scenes hit particularly hard, because they tell a story that will resonate with everyone, if not in the detail then certainly in the emotional impact. As the lights fade, we’re left to wonder if any of what we’ve just seen is actually real, or if it’s a metaphor for the inevitable journey into adulthood we all eventually have to make.
There are several star attractions in the play. First, the actors – Evanna Lynch and Colin Campbell – who are both enchanting to watch, albeit in an uncomfortable, distressing kind of way. As Pig, Campbell’s red-faced, dripping with sweat and bouncing with restless energy, flipping from comedy dance moves to physical violence in the blink of an eye. Lynch’s Runt, in contrast, is icily cool and detached, prone to drifting off into a daydream about the life she could have if she can only break free from Pig’s increasingly intense devotion. Both actors capture the childlike behaviour and vulnerability of teenagers who act tough only to cover up the insecurities beneath the surface.
Another unique and fascinating element of the play is its use of language. Between themselves, Pig and Runt speak a mixture of the Cork dialect and their own unique code. It’s impossible to understand every word, though there’s always just enough there to keep up with the story – and somehow the more unintelligible their conversations become, the clearer our understanding of the pair’s guarded, exclusive relationship. When Runt drifts away mentally from her friend, her speech becomes much clearer, which serves the double purpose of giving the audience a brief respite and filling in gaps in the plot, and emphasising the difference between the world in which Runt lives, and the what if? world of her imagination.
The direction and design of the play take a blank set, furnished only with a battered TV, and make it come alive through light, sound and movement. Wherever Pig and Runt go, we can follow them and picture the scene – whether it’s a busy bar, a moving cab or a quiet spot by the sea. Later, haze and lasers combine with a soundtrack of classic 90s dance hits to recreate the euphoric atmosphere of the Palace Disco and transport us back to our own teenage years.
Disco Pigs is a 75-minute rollercoaster, and though it’s a short play, the relentless physical pace and emotional intensity are such that any longer might be too much for both audience and actors. Simultaneously funny, heartbreaking and horrifying, its power lies largely in the fact that Pig and Runt, even with their strange language and dysfunctional behaviour, are ultimately just like us; the route may be a little different, but their final destination is the same as everyone else’s. And in this respect, Disco Pigs is as fresh and relevant now as it was 20 years ago.
Disco Pigs is at Trafalgar Studio 2 until 19th August.