This production of Enda Walsh’s dazzling early play Disco Pigs begins with a discomfiting antagonism between audience and stage. A pinch-faced girl sticks her head out from behind a sheet and snorts at our heels as we take our seats. Nearby, a boy thrusts a crackling cassette player into our faces, his slack-jawed grin melting into dislike as ‘I Got You Babe’ plays on loop alongside snippets from the 1967 film Bonnie & Clyde. Their playful fascination with us simmers with resentment, setting the tone for what follows in this darkly comic two-hander, directed with assured style by recent JMK Award winner, Cathal Cleary.
Pig (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and Runt (Charlie Murphy) have been inseparable since their birth, seconds apart. Contemptuous of their no-hoper parents and bred on a diet of trash TV and cider, their Cork City lives consist of downing cheap pints and inflicting violence on off-licences and university students. But on the eve of their 17th birthday, the playroom tyranny of their friendship begins to fracture as sex, love and adulthood intrude.
Walsh’s rapid-fire dialogue is dense, knotty and bewildering, packing sinewy humour into the language Pig and Runt have evolved between them. As our only way into their world, stuffed with local dialect words, catchphrases and made-up expressions, it occasionally strains for attention as much as its users. But in the quieter moments (well paced by Cleary), it has a sad, dirty poetry that speaks eloquently of change – and loss – yet to be understood. It also allows us a glimpse at what has led Pig and Runt to create a “kingdom” in Pig’s bedroom rather than accept the streets outside their homes. In the pair’s rejection of Cork as ‘Pork’ and their sneering dismissal of the old duffer who runs a pub for ‘Provos’, we witness a society broken open by economic deprivation and exhausted of meaning by conflicts reduced to throwaway lines about bombing old ladies.
Chloe Lamford’s strongly-conceived set design and choice of props reinforce Pig and Runt’s unsettling detachment from everything including the consequences of their actions. With giddy enthusiasm, they hurtle around the small space (filled with deflating balloons and hanging light fittings), flicking switches and rearranging Seventies furniture to create bedrooms, pubs and clubs. From the amusingly breathless Barbie-based account of their birth, to the plastic food they chew so enthusiastically, to the suited mannequin that Pig beats to a pulp, theirs is a thoroughly mediated world – reality as a toy to be played with roughly and then discarded.
Fleck-Byrne and Murphy spark well off each other as the self-modelled Bonnie and Clyde of Cork; bristling with confidence until a face full of chips and a bloodied nose wipes away the movie sheen of their fantasy life. Murphy is affecting as Runt, whose childlike awe of Pig’s destructive gestures of affection gives way to a realisation that she needs more – and less. Fleck-Byrne makes an even greater impression as Pig, playing the character with a loose-limbed vulnerability that highlights the fragility of his bravado. His self-importance is founded on a constant yearning for approval that erupts into shocking violence at the play’s end.
In Cleary’s capable hands, Disco Pigs is filled with surreal and funny touches that hit their mark. But don’t be surprised when the laughter dies in your throat.