Splattered with references of its time, among them Terry Wogan as a television frontman and half-forgotten Irish footballer Phil Babb, Enda Walsh’s 1996 breakthrough has become a period piece. Nevertheless, the aging process has served this tale of teenage kicks well, and director Cathal Cleary, this year’s JMK Award winner, pumps it full of nostalgia and naivety. Leave the chrysalis of adolescence and your rose-tinted specs fall off.
Cleary gives the whole thing a halcyon glaze. With its wallpaper swirls, jaded balloons and velour-suited mannequins, Chloe Lamford’s set is like every ancient children’s party photograph rolled into one. Pig and Runt, two teenage bezzies born minutes apart, neighbours with their own private language, have outgrown their tiny, rundown town. They charge around it, downing cider and tubthumping away in empty discos, with more energy than they know how to expend. With a whiff of underlying love – maybe just misinterpreted, one-sided lust – the pair seem a latterday, small-fry Bonnie and Clyde.
Pig and Runt are caged animals, bored by confinement. The surroundings they’ve inherited aren’t made for them, but for their quieter, clapped-out elders. Even the local pub is ‘a sad old place’. Squint and Pork City could be Ireland as a whole. When they finally reach the Palace Disco, underage and over-awed, it seems the brave new world of their dreams. After bluffing past the bouncers, they stand in the doorway, mouths open, diaphragms paralysed, dazzled by flashing lights and possibility.
But dreams come to life are seldom all they promise and its here that the bond between Pig and Runt is ripped asunder. While Runt eyes up the crowd, Pig feels its eyes on him. A kiss is met with jealous rage and, by the time the lights come up, drenching everything in pallid reality, it’s as if two Siamese twins have been ripped at the seam.
Rory Fleck-Byrne and Charlie Murphy are, frankly, fantastic. Blustering with pent-up aggression and pheromones, their teens defy the lipglossed perfection of Skins and Hollyoaks. They are bruised and gawky, but pumped full of life. Neither is conscious of his own facial ticks – his jaw hangs down gormlessly; her nose crinkles with mischief – so it’s fitting that Cleary begins their shared epiphany with a reflection caught in a mirror.
It’s hard to imagine a production that better captures the essence of Walsh’s seductive play. Cleary conducts the action perfectly, contrasting hormonal heartbeats with oases of calm that suggest teenage sentimentality and glints of suicide. He makes us see the world through their eyes, such that the action swells and subsides, carried by tides of emotion and adrenaline.
Thrilling, turbulent and dangerous, not to mention full of theatrical flair, Disco Pigs becomes a party popper that leaves shrapnel wounds in its wake. Extraordinary.