By Martin Bassindale
On entering the Alma Tavern, in peaceful Clifton, you’re welcomed to carpeted floors, wooden panelling and a gourmet menu. Frankly, it’s unlikely that you’d realise there’s an intimate forty-seat theatre space above your head whilst you’re ordering your pint of Doom Bar. And what a contrast you’d be met with if you ventured up the narrow stairs leading to the theatre, pint in hand.
Max Dorey’s stage is a broken billboard lying flat on the floor. Graffiti, litter and rubble adorn the space. Nineties dance music plays over the stereo. It’s definitely not Clifton. Instead Enda Walsh’s powerful two-hander takes us to Ireland. Pork City to be precise. And for the next hour and a bit we are taken on a night out with Pig and Runt to celebrate their joint 17th birthday. As these childhood soul mates reach the end of childhood their relationship is agonizingly deconstructed on stage.
This sensual, volatile more-than-friendship is performed by Edmund Digby-Jones and Faye Marsay, two final year acting students from the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, with serious amounts of energy and commitment. This is a master class in cardio-vascular acting. The sort you watch and end up breaking a sweat just in empathy. There’s barely a moment to breathe in this journey that races from maternity wards to night clubs, dining rooms to kebab shops and even makes it to the seaside.
Needless to say there are no scenes changes. Instead Anna Simpson’s bold direction creates an entire world made purely by the physicality of Pig and Runt. And what a twisted world it is. Pig and Runt are actually Darren and Sinéad and Pork City is actually Cork. This fantasy life they’ve created in order to escape their dire surroundings is supported by a cocktail of ingredients you’d struggle to buy at the bar below you. Drugs, disco and a painfully complex love for each other. Yet as they pop more pills and down more lager we realise their relationship is as unhealthy as their diet.
When Pig asks his other half “What’s the colour of love?” in a beautifully calm and heartfelt moment within the surreal madness of the piece, I’m left feeling oddly venerable. Like the last person left on a dance floor, with the music cut off and house lights snapped on. Though the bombardment of heavy Irish slang, pounding rave beats and confrontational storytelling borders dangerously close on becoming indulgent and overwhelming, the actors and director have the intelligence to slam on the breaks when we’re least expecting it. As we stick our tongues out for a tab, and yearn to join them on their epic night out, they lean towards us and sticks pins in them instead.
If you want to escape the city and go on a bender of Biblical proportions, but wake up the next morning without a trace of a hangover, then I would definitely recommend seeing Disco Pigs. Oh and in case you’re wondering. The colour of love…it’s blue.