Writer: Greg Kotis
Director: Katharine Farmer
On the face of it, the visit of a Federal Government officer to a small American farm in order to ensure the annual pig count is correct, doesn’t sound like the sort of storyline that would translate into a play that could work on Broadway or in London. First impressions can be deceptive, however, and Pig Farm resonates with audiences, tapping into genres and stereotypes and moving between parody and homage in equal measure. That there is an environmental issue at the heart of it is almost an irrelevance, an incidental detail to connect with an audience who are already on board.
The story is set on Tom’s farm. Tom’s wife Tina wants a baby but Tom is too busy trying to ensure that juvenile offender Tim completes the pig count before the man from the feds arrives. Building on what is quickly a running gag, the man from the feds is called Teddy, a nearby farm is owned by Tony and every other person they refer to also has a name beginning with T. Theo is always named last, suffering from the indignity of an h that softens the pronunciation of the all important first letter.
Along the way there is sexual farce and caricature played out in a way that could seem crass or patronising were it not for the obvious empathy writer Greg Kotis has for the small American farmers and the pressure they face in an era of mass production.
The play is also ramped up several notches by the way that, in the character of Tina, Kotis switches from parody to pathos in a manner that is so effortless that is seems both natural and moving against the surreal and bizarre backdrop. The mundane subject matter is elevated to the stuff of real drama because Kotis knows that the important thing is for the stakes to be high, and protecting a livelihood, saving a marriage and trying to avoid a return to juvenile detention are all serious goals.
The cast are superb, sparring off each other and immersing themselves in their rôles. Stephen Tompkinson may be the star turn but this is truly an ensemble piece. Eric Odom as Tim uses naivety and stupidity to conceal a more calculating mind that suggests his journey from boy to man is already well underway when the play commences. Charlotte Parry, as Tina, is a mix of homespun charm, sexual frustration and potential homicidal maniac, and Dan Fredenburgh as Tom displays the classic traits of the dumb but honest worker with a mistrust of the man that has been a winning staple of so many classic American comedies over the years. Tompkinson rounds off the cast with a strong performance as the officious official who silently harbours a desire for a rural lifestyle.
The only time the play disappoints is near the end, when it overdoes the farce and loses the balance between this and the story. It’s a shame as it’s unnecessary. The audience has bought into the characters, however unbelievable or over the top they may be, and they don’t need to be taken that little bit further. Ignore this however and Pig Farm is proof if it were needed – and it probably is – that pig farming can be fun.
Runs until 21 November 2015 | Image: Specular