They are birthed into the world side by side, Pig (Colin Campbell) and Runt (Evanna Lynch), at the same moment: the actors push their way out through two cracks on the wall (Richard Kent’s spartan yet flexible set design), as if from a cosmic womb, while narrating every single detail of their lives of no particular importance.
It was immediately electrifying.
Starting off the play in a direct, hyper-paced style that recalls Endgame, Disco Pigs has the magnetic charm to sweep you off your feet like a cyclone, and drop you right into the world of the play, even though it’s written and performed in a Cork accent that’s not the easiest to understand for a general American audience. But what does come through clearly is how relevant the story still is, 20 years after the play premiered. As you follow the life stories of Pig and Runt, which unfold at a maniacal rhythm, you might think of a time when you needed absolutely nothing to feel as if everything was possible. Regardless of age, we’ve all been there. Some of us perhaps are still desperately holding on to the last bit of it.
And that blind relentlessness, which defines the pair, comes from a well of loneliness, and manifests as their boundless imagination. Pig and Runt of Cork City, or any small town in Ireland, or honestly, anywhere in America, speak to each other in a language perhaps only known to their own private world; year in, year out, they celebrate each other’s birthday at the same moment, and go on adventures (or to the extent that their small town can offer). It’s an endearing yet symbiotic relationship that anyone who’s had a childhood best friend can relate to.
These are two underdogs, outsiders without much agency of their own, so Pig and Runt overcompensate with bravado: demanding free alcohol from the local store, picking fights in bars, running at top speed in everything they do, rarely having both feet on the ground. Eventually, they go just a little too far and out of control.
You’ll see the bright colors on their clothes (courtesy of the most accurate 90s aesthetics), and think of Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, or Jessie and James from Team Rocket. It’s a universally recognizable rite of passage for the youth: the prickly exterior of someone who lacks in security.
And if you remember the 2001 film adaptation of the titular play (starring Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh), which had a more somber tone in color and a more tender pace of development regarding the relationship between Pig and Runt, the Irish Rep production is more straightforward (at times cruelly so). The vibrancy also makes it more disturbing when we observe the two youths’ lives driven into disarray by their very own ignorance. And unlike in the film, where Pig appears to be a young sociopath, Campbell’s Pig seems to have an innocence that makes him almost sympathetic.
In this play, the focal point is their impending 17th birthday, which by all accounts is a pivotal point in anybody’s life. Pig and Runt, two peas in a pod and seeming to agree on everything under the big blue sky, are at the precipice of a change that hits them before they can realize. Pig, gradually realizing how Runt means more to him than a childhood pal, begins to imagine the two of them in a more sexualized context, while Runt, becoming increasingly aware of Pig’s volatile and violent tendencies, starts to look at their relationship more objectively. It’s been uttered time and again in the play: he is her whole life and she his, the best and the worst both of them could ever have asked for, from the first breaths they took as babies, still without a care in the world as to the consequences of their actions, but perhaps starting to dip their toes into adulthood. Or at least, by the end of the play, Runt has the intention to break free from this dysfunctional relationship.
As for the titular activity, disco is almost a third character in the play. Not having experienced it growing up, the one-time worldwide sensation, the freeform dance amidst too-loud music is an essential part of Pig and Runt’s young lives, like a substance that fills their indescribable hunger, a great void of someone who has yet to discover who exactly they are meant to be. The play depicts the youth psyche so gloriously and illuminates the social issues caused by dysfunctional childhoods. At the same time, Pig and Runt’s loneliness, as well as their coping mechanism, is so beautifully depicted, it makes me think that this is the sort of play that can only be written by someone who understands loneliness, being an outsider, and spending too much time in imaginary realms. Having seen Walsh’s Ballyturk just recently, I believe it’s been the playwright’s constant theme of exploration.
Disco Pigs is a provocative feast. It’s the quintessential, ultra Irish play, but the cultural specificity does not eclipse the universality of the explosiveness that is youth culture. It’s Trainspotting meets Love Me If You Dare, a romantic story, but also disturbing. Ultimately and though in an unfamiliar tongue, it’s a story that resonates.
Disco Pigs runs to March 4, 2018. More production info can be found here.