Enda Walsh, best known in the U.S. for the Broadway musical Once, first gained fame as the playwright of a furious burst of a play he wrote in five days about two intense and inseparable teenagers who share a birthday and a private language. Disco Pigs was set in Cork, Ireland, and first staged there. It soon traveled the world. [Solas Nua produced it in DC in 2009.]
More production photos at NewYorkTheater.me
Now, the Irish Repertory Theatre is presenting what is being billed as the twentieth anniversary production of the play. There is a double edge to this marketing, since it implicitly asks us to treat with reverence this hour-long work of theater that many on this side of the Atlantic may have never seen, with a script so dense that most of us will find it impenetrable.
Walsh mixes a Cork dialect with private words and various grunts to capture the cloistered world of the two characters. Sinead and Darren were born on the same day next to each other in the local hospital, and grew up next door, apparently speaking only to one another. They even have come up with their own names: Darren is Pig, and Sinead is Runt. Their attitude is summed up in one of their more lucid exchanges:
Runt: Wadda we wanna be, Pig?
Pig: Leff alone. Righ pal?
Runt: Righ, Pal. Mu zack up.
(That last phrase means to begin the disco music.)
Luckily, there is an energetic rhythm and vividness to Walsh’s prose that two good actors can make more accessible with their bodies, turning the language visual and physical. Colin Campbell and Evanna Lynch (best known as Luna Lovegood in the Harry Potter films) do just that. On a minimal set, Campbell as Pig and Lynch as Runt celebrate their 17th birthday together by traveling to the beach, getting into altercations in a pub, watching an episode of Baywatch together, sneaking into a local disco:
“Me in da Palace Disco,” Runt exclaims. “Seventeen! All grow up!”
For all of the characters’ antic playfulness, the play adroitly reveals how dreary their lives are. “Baywatch” dazzles them not just because of Pamela Anderson and the “bronze boys” of Southern California, but also because of the gleaming toilets depicted on the American TV series.
That’s not the only undercurrent in Disco Pigs, nor ultimately the most dramatic. At one point, Pig fantasizes having sex with Runt. But Runt fantasizes having her hand kissed by a romantic stranger. That their adolescent stirrings start so much at odds with one another creates a tension that promises to escalate into an explosive confrontation.
At least, that is how one imagines Disco Pigs played out during its original production, when Pig was portrayed by Cillian Murphy, now the menacing gangster Tommy in “Peaky Blinders.” Pig and Runt talk of their robbing and stealing and fighting, a life of youthful impulsiveness. The actors in the Irish Rep production, however, do not come off as delinquents, and Campbell’s Pig just doesn’t seem dangerous. Still, they are both graceful and adorable, with fine comic timing, and for many, that might be enough.
Disco Pigs is on stage at the Irish Repertory Theater (132 W 22nd St, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues, New York, NY 10011) through February 18, 2018.
Tickets and details
Disco Pigs by Enda Walsh. Directed by John Haidar. Set and costume design by Richard Kent, lighting design by Elliot Griggs, sound design by Giles Thomas, movement direction by Naomi Said. Featuring Evanna Lynch and Colin Campbell. Reviewed by Jonathan Mandell