Monday, 9 September 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Pig - The Royal Court, Liverpool.

Two women and a pig, in a laboratory. That’s all the stage comprises in this assured first play from Sarah Power, developed via the Royal Court’s Stage Write Programme and directed by Olive Pascha, for her first professional production.

Masters student Lucy spends an inordinate amount of time in the lab, tending to and monitoring her pig subject, confiding in him her thoughts and the trauma in her family's past, which she has even avoided disclosing to her boyfriend. Maria is her supervisor, struggling to manage her OCD and seemingly friendless. Control is a factor in both their lives, with the revelations coming in the relative pristine safety of the lab and the women gradually reaching out to each other.

The parts are solidly-drawn; Lucy is all chirpy, charming bonhomie which is gradually stripped away to reveal a raw grief, and buttoned up, pedantic, controlling Maria starts to reveal her own mental imprisonment and loneliness. Even the unseen pig develops a palpable presence over time, the light from his container and the bleep of his heartbeat monitor giving him an emotionally involving role.

With strong and nuanced performances from Abigail Middleton as Lucy and Karen Young as Maria, fleshing out the contrasting personality types and attitudes, to provide mutual foils, counterpoints and some comic touches, the trust and friendship between the characters develops slowly and believably.

It’s an ambitious first play and a lot of dense emotional content is packed into this simple and stark capsule space, but although it’s genuinely upsetting, the salve is the bond that the women have formed by the end of the play. This is where, for me, the play misses an opportunity for intellectual and emotional ballast and conflict; the personal issues about mental illness, trauma and isolation are convincing, but there is a lack of a political/macro dimension. Outside the lab there are big, unresolved, problematic moral issues not addressed in any real depth; the animal rights protesters at the gate are growing in number and the underdeveloped ethical dimension makes for an intellectually unsatisfying conclusion.

However, this is an intriguing, thoughtful and remarkably sure-footed first play from Power, directed with conviction by Pascha and neatly stitched into 75 minutes with efficient and compelling packaging by the lighting, sound and design team of Ellie Light, Matt Jones and Kate Harvey, who lend the lab a cold, sparse authenticity on the truncated shelf that is the Royal Court’s studio stage.

One more thing though - Royal Court Studio itself. It’s shaping up to be an exciting venue and one which should be rivalling the other studio spaces in the north west.

Reviewer - Tracy Ryan
on - 4/9.19

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