‘New writing? New wronging!’ proudly exclaims production company Kill The Beast’s website. This delighted and demented expression is one that sums the style of The Boy Who Kicked Pigs well. While it opened with an ear-splitting scream and saw its first death inside the first five minutes, it was a darkly fun and largely family-friendly romp throughout.
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is renowned for its misleading and gratuitous monikers. Hence, it is refreshing that The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, adapted from a cult novella by former Doctor Who and famous scarf wearer Tom Baker, is essentially the story of a boy, Robert Caligari (ably and demonically played by David Cumming), who kicks pigs. Well, piggy banks, at any rate, but ones who become inexplicably sentient. One such kick causes an accidental road death which so ignites Caligari that he, goaded on by Trevor the pig(gy bank), takes up ‘murdering’ full time; this has amusingly ghastly consequences for just about every character we come across in this insane spread, including himself.
Set in front of a vast and quivering projector screen and with the cast clad in drab clothes and made-up in grey, the whole aesthetic suggested some black and white film-noir. There is an immediate footnote that unlike the largely cross-atlantic works of the genre, this was a production that felt exceptionally British in style, a vestige of being written by a man most famous for playing arguably the most quintessentially British character of all time.
However, interestingly it was not ‘Dr Who’ which immediately sprung to mind as a point of reference but rather the collected works of Pratchett. Ludicrous characters arrive without any obvious application or explanation and for the most part die spectacularly without such trivialities emerging; the intentions and scenarios bear the same wonky logic. It is easy to see how this was a ‘cult’ novel; its dialogue is occasionally hilarious and often entirely obfuscating in its humour. The plot has a skittish nature created by the short vignette scenes and judicious use of multi-roles. In a four-hander play, this was fairly universal but most notable from the sprig-haired Natasha Hodgson, whose nurse or work-experience boy would burst spectacularly onto the stage moments after her obnoxious sister Nerys had left.
The physical theatre elements, particularly those in the exceptionally gory climax, are impressive, and there is thoughtful but not forceful use of the backdrop for setting throughout. In all, this blackest of black comedies creates consistent macabre mirth and even manages a satisfactorily sane culmination, at least in narrative terms; a feat that seemed impossible even halfway through its manic progression. It will be intriguing to see what more Kill The Beast have to offer.