In her ‘Playwright’s Note’ Colleen Murphy describes a moment in Pig Girl in which “the Dying Woman prevents the Killer from injecting a substance into her by grinding the syringe under her high-heel shoe”. This is an important action, one in which she “becomes visible as a heroine” and crushes “the prevailing stereotype that those women were just drug-addled sex-workers and therefore to blame for their fate“ (her italics). On stage, unfortunately, the syringe is plastic and impossible to crush, and the significance of the moment is lost.
The syringe is symbolic of the wider problem with Pig Girl. The interplay between the real and the imagined never feels completely comfortable and there are times when it asks too much from its audience, when the gap to be bridged is too great.
Though horrific in places, Pig Girl, however, is not simply a piece of horror theatre, although it owes much to that world. As well as a depiction of extreme violence its motives have a political edge. A girl goes missing. She is a prostitute and drug addict about whom few people care. Her sister, however, knows that something is wrong and rails against a complacent police force that don’t seem to be doing much to find her. It is a piece about victim-blaming as much as anything else. Murphy treats the issue with nuance. Her police officer, for example, is not an indifferent monster. He is complicated and well-realised, with noble intentions as well as flaws.
However, in structuring her narrative for the stage, Murphy creates further barriers between the play and the audience. The action cuts between the killer and his victim (happening in real time) and the subsequent conversations between the woman’s sister and a police officer (happening over many months, the characters standing either side of the stage). It could be quite a neat temporal trick, but with the sister and police officer never existing in any kind of ‘real’ word, little is ultimately gained by their presence. Film and television might provide the means to make this structure work better, but on stage it’s unclear what is being asked of the audience.
And then there’s the thorny question over the depiction of violence, so central to everything in this play, and signposted by a deeply sinister black metal pulley and hook. It’s a remarkable object, terrifying, unsettling. But our victim doesn’t seem to register its presence until too late. There is also no blood, despite a serious injury being sustained by one of the characters. Whilst Damien Lyne and Kirsten Foster are generally convincing in their roles as ‘Killer’ and ‘Dying Girl’, the violence isn’t as shocking as it could be or perhaps as it deserves to be, which is problematic in a play of this nature.
In watching Pig Girl, we are being asked to imagine a different world to the one in front of us, for what we are seeing could not possibly happen as it is presented. The brutality and violence inherent in the play sit uneasily with the impressionistic depiction of the bulk of the action. Pig Girl is a sensitively written piece and an interesting one. However, it never quite makes the case for itself on stage and at times seems better suited to the screen.