PIG FARM St James’ Theatre SW1

OINK! SWIPE! SNOG! STAB!

“Ohhh Tim, you beautiful filthy boy!” cries Tina the pig-farmer’s discontented wife, succumbing drunkenly to some pan-banging draining-board sex. Filthy he is indeed, though not in the sanitized Fifty-Shades manner: the 17-year-old “work-release” farmhand from the local penitentiary is head to foot in pig-slurry.
Soon her nightie is, too. In fact, at numerous points in Greg Kotis’ play all four characters are liberally besmeared with “faecal sludge” from the fifteen-thousand pigs on a grim rural unit which can’t quite cope. Tom, the husband (Dan Fredenburgh) is living on the edge, beleaguered by torrential rain and Federal government paperwork. Speaking as a former farmer’s wife, I can vouch for that realism. He devotes his evenings, though, to illicit sludge-dumping in the Potomac River while the thwarted Tina thinks he should be home making babies. Worse still, the Environmental Protection Agency inspector is coming tomorrow and requires an accurate audit of their pigs. There are too many for comfort, but as Tom repeatedly mourns, when America wants bacon, and pork prices keep dropping, numbers have to go up for a small, panicking farmer to survive.
Kotis last hit this stage with the unpromising but successful and West-End-transferred URINETOWN, a dystopian water-shortage dictatorship fantasy musical. Clearly he’s by no means through with excretory themes and sustainability worries. Or with violence: this story of country folk generously deploys a rolling-pin, a slaughtering-knife , a handgun, several offstage truck-crashes and an acoustically spectacular though invisible “pig run” when young Tim proves his manliness by crashing the West Pen open during the inspection and allowing Ole’ Bess the herd mother to lead thousands in a charge for freedom.
That this is black comedy rather than Chekhovian rural tragedy is signalled by the alliterative casting: Tom and Tina, Tim the farmhand, Teddy the EPA official preparing a report for DC, and offstage there’s neighbour Tony, Toby the feed-meal man, and Teddy’s colleagues Trevor, Tyler, Theo… well, you get the idea. This is, surprisingly, funny at the time. So is most of the violence, and the repetitive revivals of the two bloodstained corpses near the end is pure Python. You expect them to break out in Spamalot’s “Not Dead Yet” chorus.
Tom’s desperation and nostalgia for a simpler time in their life is both laughable and, at moments, immensely sad: Fredenburgh does it beautifully, and there is real depth of confusion and affection in Charlotte Parry’s Tina. Chuck in some nice Pinterish menace from Teddy (a brilliantly odd Stephen Tompkinson) and a remarkable turn from American Erik Odom as Tim, all adolescent longing and spurting violence. So the two hours, briskly directed by Katharine Farmer, are certainly watchable. As to the author’s political point about unmanageable, wasteful oversupply , disgusting industrial farming and resentment of Federal regulatory jobsworths, they are discernible, but not really central. Top marks for Carla Goodman’s credibly rundown kitchen set, though, and sound designer John Leonard’s spectacular thunder, porcine stampedes and pop radio.
box office 0844 264 2140 to 21 Nov

rating:   three   3 Meece Rating

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