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Blog: Directing Disco Pigs, the play with a language of its own
Director John Haidar's previous West End credits include acting as assistant director on Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and associate director on Photograph 51, which starred Nicole Kidman. As it opens at Trafalgar Studios, Haidar writes about directing Enda Walsh's unique play Disco Pigs, 20 years after it first premiered.
On the page, Disco Pigs can seem difficult to decipher. The language Pig and Runt speak is entirely their own: it’s a variation of a Cork dialect, but peppered with words, sounds, and phrases of their own making, along with references drawn from every corner of mid-90s pop culture. It’s the second play Enda Walsh wrote and it has this almost punk ideology: nothing exists until you say the next thing. The language has such attack; words smash violently off each other. It’s a world in which words are weaponised, but wherein the very act of speaking can also be an assault to evade the most complex human emotion of all. It takes a thousand words to say three, but the journey towards those three words, towards getting them out, is what matters.
Then, amidst the verbal exuberance, there are these occasional chasms of silence, moments where things fall apart, and even a sense of the confessional box in their soliloquies: something taboo, even shameful, but a cause they need to recruit their audience to, perhaps simply to confirm they’re alive. If they cease to speak, they might cease to exist, so their fear of silence is all-pervasive.
I’ve often wondered whether the play was so ground-breaking when it was first performed two decades ago not only because it puts this extraordinary, explosive relationship between Pig and Runt centre stage, but because it’s so well-written, structured, and true. You can’t dismiss it as a howl of rage. What the play might be most concerned, with, actually, is unconditional love, about being inseparable from another human being.
Over the course of 75 minutes, you are being drawn into the absolute humanity of these 17-year-old rebels without a cause. It’s full of indelible theatrical images, which the script gives you a direct line to. I remember Enda saying it should feel honest and kinetic and unstable, like a load of instruments being played, then thrown off a cliff while they’re still being played.
All great writers make us challenge our perceptions and the easy narratives we create for ourselves. The media tends to simplify complex issues, chiefly those concerning today’s youth culture. What a play like this does is to challenge us to look at our place in those narratives. We may never have been to Cork City, or eaten Scampi Fries washed down with a two-litre bottle of cider, or driven out to the beach in the middle of the night to give someone else their first glimpse of the ocean, but we’ve almost certainly asked the same questions of love, faith, and understanding of ourselves and others that these characters are racing headlong towards.
Ultimately, we’re not telling an audience anything, we’re saying we’re in this thing together, we’re all subject to the same hopes and fears.