Thirteen-year-old Robert Caligari is not a nice boy. He picks on his sister and has a nasty habit of kicking pigs, which leads to an awful lot of trouble. But today, Robert (David Cumming – with, among other attributes, a brilliant maniacal laugh) gets his comeuppance.
Kill The Beast, a theatre company formed specifically to create this piece, presents the world première of this adaptation of the cult novel by Tom (Dr Who) Baker. The production, at Salford’s Lowry Theatre is part of The Lowry’s ‘Developed With’ strand which provides valuable, dedicated support to emerging artists.
A grotesquely comic farce, the play features a talking piggybank, a blind man slaying a badger, a motorway pile-up and a spectacularly inept doctor. It also features tight direction from Clem Garrity and a cast of just four (who, with Garrity, wrote the script). All four performers play multiple characters – sometimes achieving super-human changeover speeds. Although there are obvious leads in Robert and his sister Nerys (Natasha Hodgson – who displays an incredible versatility and range in her various characters), this is a great example of ensemble acting.
There is a highly stylised feel to the design, Nina Scott’s costumes are muted in colour but with masses of detail and faces and hair are inhumanly pale. At times it looks as though a macabre cartoon has been brought to life. The stage is largely bare except for an assortment of quirky chairs and a backdrop screen showing intriguingly drawn, black and white animated video clips by Bryan Woltjen (the clips are largely static rather than buzzing with distraction).
The movement and use of the small stage area is as impressive as the script and performances. The challenges of adapting a narrator-led novel to produce a clever and creative piece seem to be confidently overcome. Carefully choreographed, many scenes rely on absolute understanding of the space and fellow performers. There are no moments of uncertainty, each movement is well controlled.
There are many deliciously funny moments – even when Robert is not on stage, with a local newspaper office providing particularly rich comic fare, making a few appearances to relay its bizarre assortment of classified adverts. Almost constantly, there is laughter throughout and the audience also – unusually – applauds many individual scenes. At 70 minutes and without an interval, the show maintains an excellent pace; it helps that the script is so tightly written and edited.
Inventive, clever, gruesome and hilarious, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is a twisted triumph and an unmissable debut production from the very exciting Kill The Beast.