They watch. They lurk and lean and linger in doorways. We watch the men. And we watch ourselves watching. In KING OF PIGS there is a mirror at eye level to the audience and we see our watching selves reflected. Somewhat frozen by the confrontation of self-perception, our right to silence is invoked by the setting, yet we are implicated in the events. It’s a stunning metaphor in a play of reach and power which exhorts us to bear witness and be better. To confront our understandings and analyse our responses and speak of these hidden, skulking things.
We meet a woman, we meet 4 men. There are narratives around the men, all involving a woman, not one woman but, yet, the same woman. The men speak of past events. She speaks in the past tense of injury and love and violence and desire. The 4 stories will interweave to create a multilayered exploration of male violence, overt and covert. There is a mystery in the stories, what has happened and how did this woman get here.
It is that intricately written mystery that travels KING OF PIGS at the staccato, stuttering pace which gives the work its reflective qualities. It begins with several sudden still scenes and during its 75 minutes some sequences are elongated and others are short, image expressed. What playwright Steve Rodgers has done here is to constantly throw his audience into the dark with only the air conditioner noise for reassurance that things are normal. And safe. In those many, but brief, moments a person cannot escape their thoughts about what has just happened on the small stage. And what has happened is confronting and perplexing.
Director Blazey Best has placed a steady hand on the modulation of the pause and silence that is implied in the text and it is inserted skilfully into the production. Well moderated and mitigated implied violence is tempered with easy touches of humour and lightness and the use of overlapping dialogue in places. Her lead actor, Ella Scott-Lynch, is stellar in this demanding role and gives this woman a variety and motivational throughline that acknowledges the everywoman in we who watch. By drawing the character with a rich, warm history, we understand why she might stay. We get attraction and desire and hopefulness in the face of our judgement.
Our judgement is confronted at every turn by the four adult male cast. Mick Bani confronts any stereotyping in his initially shy and sweet delivery of a physically menacing figure but in that character is one of the big questions that one takes away from KING OF PIGS. The disjoint between genuine rehabilitation and a merely rehabilitated reputation. Each of the male characters, and one of the female-adopted personas, explores ideas and attitudes not just ripped from the newspapers but the private, sneaky, secret implications around societal expectations of female behaviour. Kire Tosevski does such a good job as the man who watches “essentially good blokes who hit their wives”, his effacing observer is well contrasted with his lesser self, the family man. Ashley Hawes’ Matthew is touching and knowable and Christian Byers’ Jayden is arrogant ignorance personified.
Technically the production is superbly created. There is a rising damp blandness and atmospheric upstage hiding places in Isabel Hudsons’ microcosm of a set. Teagan Nicholls’ sound design has the clever ambient definition of place and emotion balanced with those emotive silences and replete with the jarring of sudden cuts. The music composition from iOTA has a direct emotional impact. At one moment, a single high-pitched recriminating ring and next, a single strum guitar chord counterpointed with a discordant, distant, distorted wolfish whistle. The straw and steel warmth and cold of the lighting from Verity Hampson gently supports the impact and intent of scenes within scenes.
THE KING OF PIGS espouses no answers, instead it exposes its audience to layers of perception around domestic and spousal abuse. I saw the show with two male friends and if our pavement debrief is any indication, the resultant conversation begins in sharing between people of good will. Go watch THE KING OF PIGS for its intelligent, powerful and relevant theatricality, going out thereafter to reflect and speak up.