Pros: Hilarious, intelligent, messy (in the best way possible).
Cons: Subtleties of the satire may be lost on those unfamiliar with the genre.
Pig Farm is billed as a “dark new farce” by the writer of the hit musical Urinetown. Like Urinetown, the play is receiving its UK premiere at St. James Theatre, an 300-seat thrust space that feels much more intimate. The venue also features a restaurant and bar with friendly staff and an excellent selection of herbal teas (sadly, I was on antibiotics and unable to sample their equally excellent selection of spirits).
Pig Farm takes place in present-day America, on a family farm run by Tom (Dan Fredenburgh), the archetypal tragic hero; his wife Tina (Charlotte Parry), who desperately wants a baby; and Tim (Erik Odom), a seventeen-year-old farm hand on release from juvenile detention. The action centres on a visit from federal agent Teddy (Stephen Tompkinson) for the annual pig count. (Before I go on – yes, the “T” names are a running joke throughout the show, resulting in hilarious tongue-twisters like “Get the total tally for Teddy, Tim!” which never gets old for me.)
As my friend pointed out, Pig Farm isn’t farce so much as it is satire. It is cleverly written, simultaneously a homage to and parody of kitchen-sink dramas by Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and especially Sam Shepard. But the play really only becomes a farce in the final scene, when the action reaches its violent and riotously funny conclusion.
The humour is incredibly dark, which may explain why Pig Farm was dismissed by critics during its run in the States. Even our open-minded London crowd, which spent most of the show in hysterics, took a few minutes to decide whether they were supposed to be laughing at all. Erik Odom (Tim), who was kind enough to answer a few of my questions after the show, described the secret to performing this style of comedy as “internally winking,” or “being in on the joke but not getting caught [by the audience] being in on the joke.”
Our seats were front-and-centre, which meant that we had to look up to see the actors’ faces when they moved too far downstage, but also put us right in the middle of the action (which was amazing). I don’t want to give too much away, but I left with a bit of stage blood splattered across my forehead. For those who want to avoid the splash zone, rows D, E, and F are at a safer distance and at perfect eye level with the stage.
Each member of the four-person cast gives a standout performance: Odom’s Tim is very endearing, somehow simultaneously charming and completely unhinged. Tompkinson (as “G-man” Teddy) completely won me over with a hilariously prolonged monologue detailing his personal revelations while catching a loose pig. Parry’s compelling and dynamic performance is the glue that holds the show together, and Fredenburgh is utterly believable as the downtrodden American dreamer – a mean, angry drunk who is sympathetic in spite of everything.
The technical elements show incredible attention to detail, particularly Carla Goodman’s set, which is a farmhouse kitchen complete with peeling wallpaper and grocery receipts stuck to the fridge with pig-themed magnets. Combined with Jason Taylor’s creative use of light, the set provides the perfect backdrop. Fight director Malcolm Ranson also deserves a nod for his numerous shocking and brutally effective scenes of violence.
Pig Farm might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it is an exceptionally well-written and well-executed piece of theatre that is unlike anything else that is on right now. So if you want a good laugh and a little something different, get yourself down to the farm.
Writer: Greg Kotis
Director: Katherine Farmer
Producer: Dead Posh Productions and Julian Stoneman Associates
Booking Until: November 21
Box Office: 0844 264 2140
Booking Link: https://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/book-tickets/?event=27676