EFR - Reviews of Defunct Pig

Defunct Pig

Fri 17th – Sat 25th August 2012

reviews

Pia Dhaliwal

at 10:09 on 18th Aug 2012

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When putting on a show containing a political message, it is important – whether this is achieved metaphorically or literally – that the message should be clear. And yet this rather basic standard is one that Justyna Mytnik’s production of Defunct Pig fails to meet.

I do bear in mind that Defunct Pig is an absurdist comedy intended to examine the concepts of paranoia and fear, and those aspects of it certainly do come across. But as a whole the story is too bizarre and alienating to be truly immersive despite its encouraging free entry. The show opens with a pregnant woman holding a baby (Melanie Phillips) sleeping on a bench. Shortly thereafter, another woman comes along (Natalie McConnon), seemingly intent on harming the sleeping woman’s baby. By the time the two women confront each other, neither of them are established as likeable characters – they both appear violent, unsettling and just plain odd. When three incredibly violent anti-terrorist policemen (Euan Cuthbertson, Stewart Archibald, Sara Shaarawi) arrive on the scene (established as an incredibly filthy zoo partway into the women’s interaction), the resulting fear and trepidation of the two women does not affect the audience as much as if they were more realistic, relatable characters.

What ensues is bloody, violent and mindless – and more than a little ridiculous. There seems no point to the plot apart from the over-the-top violence of the three policemen and the jarring, peripheral involvement of the women. A plant (Ikram Gillani) from the audience is dragged onstage and accused of terrorism, and it is here that the show’s message about the irrationality, fear and hatred involved in police brutality and fear mongering becomes a little more apparent. Yet for all of that, the story doesn’t go anywhere beyond getting more and more gratuitously violent – a concept that soon wears thin once its lack of development becomes apparent. The show then concludes on as bizarre a note as it begins: abruptly, and with little explanation.

However, I do not want to dismiss the obvious effort that went into this production. The stage setting is good, strewn with rubbish in a manner that emphasises the cruel, ugly nature of the story’s events. The costumes are detailed and add to the considerable visual interest of the show, along with the animal-shaped balloons hung around the stage area. The acting is incredibly energetic, with the actors throwing themselves into their roles with zeal. Though the story is undeniably bizarre, the script does contain a number of good jokes – some memorable ones include an angry response to The Sun being dismissed as a tabloid (‘It has the widest circulation in the country!’) and a ridiculous ‘terrorist test’ akin to the Salem witch trials (‘If we give him a gun, and he takes a hostage, then he’s a terrorist!’). Fairly consistent laughter was drawn from the audience once the tone of the play was set and the actors really got going, and on the whole the audience seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Again, though, while the show’s depiction of the senselessness and violence of police brutality does succeed, it is ultimately undermined by its own oddness. Things start off in such a strange way that there is no juxtaposition of the rational and the irrational that would have made the later violence more jarring to witness – instead, there is merely an escalating sense of absurdity that simply plateaus after a while. I did not find myself empathising with any of the characters, callous though this may sound, because they were just so weird. So while I do accept that there is a sincere intent in this show, ultimately I feel there is little point in so much shock and awe without putting any of it into context.

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Ettie Bailey-King

at 10:27 on 18th Aug 2012

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A lot of shows at the Fringe seem to be competing for the weirdest and most attention-grabbing name. ‘Defunct Pig’ eschews the strange titular excesses but more than makes up for it in content. This is the trippiest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.

I spent much of the performance gazing around at other people’s faces to check they were seeing what I was seeing. For the most part, there were dazed grins and hysterical laughter. About half way in, I too began to laugh nervously and for no reason. It’s hard to differentiate jokes from non-jokes, events from non-events. The script is unwieldy, chaotic and nonsensical. The action-packed synopsis (probably the best thing about ‘Defunct Pig’) with its mention of terrorists and murdered pigs, belies an essentially static play. There is certainly violence and mayhem aplenty, but it all manages to give the impression that nothing is actually happening.

Everything takes longer than it ought to. A man is dying for what feels like days. The dialogue is repetitive and unwinds its content too slowly, despite being rather fast paced. Writer Justyna Mytnik frequently peppers the dialogue with so many expletives that it’s difficult to pinpoint any meaning beyond crude, confused outbursts like, “f***k, are you out of your f***king mind?” For such strident language, it’s remarkable how little colour or characterisation it creates.

There are some genuinely funny gags – all of them absurdist, a few of them pointedly political – but the pleasure is dulled somewhat by the surrounding aura of hysteria. While the acting is perfectly competent and the comic timing occasionally excellent, it’s difficult to appear subtle or measured in a plot that seethes with the inexplicable. Ikram Gilani as Murtazza is a rare exception to the largely slap-dash performances, and he brings a welcome sense of deliberate wit to this inadvertently funny play.

The crazed violence perhaps makes a clever comment upon police brutality, and many of the silliest moments are also junctures at which we see fascinating meta-dramatic jokes alluding to the boundaries between reality and simulation, fear and paranoia. It’s not that there is nothing to admire in this insane, energetic performance, rather, the finest moments are muddied by all the blood, sweat and shouting. It’s simply too frenetic, there are too many people yelling at the same time. While the farce could be a delicate, absurdist comment upon all manner of issues, it’s critical potential is blotted out by its imprecise and aggressive tone. It’s not dissimilar from being punched in the face. If questions such as ‘are you more scared of a brownie or a pig?’ strike you as fascinating, you’re likely to see the engaging side of ‘Defunct Pig’ rather than the bizarre eccentricities . Chances are, however, that you’ll leave laughing, but without any sense of what was so funny in the first place.

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