Based on a recent horrific story of Canadian serial killings in which women, mostly young drug-addicted prostitutes, many of them from Canada's marginalised aboriginal community, were murdered by a psychotic pig farmer, Colleen Murphy's new play Pig Girl is respectful but gruelling.
Folding the story of one particular murder in between scenes that telescope the experience of the victim's sister battling to get her sister's missing person report - at first simply acknowledged by the local police, and subsequently turned into a serious investigation - Murphy's play has a number of aims. One is to show the foot-dragging attitudes of a police force that feels it couldn't investigate potential murder cases without either bodies or profiles sympathetic to the public; another is to trace the trauma experienced by victim's beleaguered families over the course of years without news; a third is to create and give voice to a victim; and finally in a largely unsensational manner, to represent the horror of the murders themselves.
Worthy aims, however Murphy's respectful script is unfortunately too careful to bring either of its stories into focus. This is particularly the case in the encounter between the dying woman and the killer (none of the play's characters are given names, a hampering reserve). Here the girl's individuality and lost potential (we're told she's a college drop-out) are signalled by her knowledge of the bones and muscle groups in the human body, which on more than one occasion she recites - without deviations, repetitions or errors - as a kind of liturgy while apparently hanging from a meat hook in the killer's slaughterhouse. In spite of a good performance by Kirsten Foster, it's a kind of speechmaking that has no analogue in reality, and no poetry either: it is just phoney.
Damien Lyne gives an intelligent controlled performance as the killer, injecting creepiness rather than anything fully grotesque.
With the story of the killing unable to drive the show, the weight falls on the roles of the stories of the sister and the police officer. Unfortunately the pair are relegated to the peripheries at either end of the tiny Finborough stage, with both reciting their lines directly to the audience, talking past each other, never quite engagingly. Olivia Darnley and Joseph Rye make the best of what they have, and are affecting at points, but even in this short running time the script is thin, falling into a series of dully repeated motifs after the journalistic revelations of the opening fade.
Perhaps this play comes after an event too recent and raw to allow a more imaginative reimagining, but on this occasion in respecting the voices of the parties concerned, it hasn't quite created a voice of its own.
Pig Girl is on at the Finborough Theatre until 16 February 2015