DISCO PIGS
Arts Theatre, London WC2
Opened 11 June, 1998

One of the most eye-catching press quotes to be seen outside a venue last year eschewed the usual run of superlatives and blandly affected praise. "Pulsates with hormonal urgency", it said more connotative, one might think, of the fare in a Soho cinema than that on show a little way south-eastward at the Arts Theatre. But it perfectly describes the small phenomenon that is the Corcadorca company's Disco Pigs, which first visited London in January and now returns as part of a world tour that will also take in its triumphal return to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Why such rapture about a two-handed show written in a deliberately infantile, heavily Cork-accented nadsat and spiced with sudden violence, such that the play resembles A Clockwork Orange rewritten as a Phil Spector song and recorded by The Fatima Mansions? Because Enda Walsh's play and Pat Kiernan's production, unintelligible as swathes of its lines might be to many Brits, tap wondrously into the wellsprings of teenage euphoria and confusion, that "top of the world but torn apart" feeling of which James Dean was the mid-century incarnation, and sets it on the tense, pre-millennial shoulders of a pair of inseparable seventeen-year-old pals calling themselves Pig and Runt, who haunt the Republic of Ireland's second city, renamed by them Pork.

Cillian Murphy and Eileen Walsh have racked the intensity of their performances up a few notches at several points due, I suspect, less to the size and format of the venue (this is the first time I have seen the show on a conventional raised stage rather than looking down from a steeply raked auditorium) than to a simple need to keep it fresh for themselves after the better part of two years performing the play. They remain, however, quite astonishing Murphy's Pig blessed with the kind of ebullience to which he can only give vent by flinging his body around, usually to someone else's heavy cost, and Walsh blessed with the kind of mobile, expressive features across which every flicker and nuance of Runt's thoughts and feelings can be seen flitting as if on a time-lapse filmed skyscape. Cormac O'Connor's sound design seems almost to be transmitting raw emotions rather than looming trip-hop and reverberating effects. As Pig and Runt would put it: "Top show, drama fans."

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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