Right from the moment you step into Theatre Works, the stage’s soiled white sheets, rusty buckets and chalky lighting set the tone for what’s to unfold in this makeshift abattoir-shack. As the audience settles in, the theatre plunges into blackness, pierced by horrifying screams, crashes and a ringing bell, signalling the commencement of a night of bloody terror and mayhem.
Enter the three gory clowns, draped in hospital gowns and stained aprons, and sporting black clown noses. They scuttle around the stage, tinkering with their elaborate contraptions – pulley systems, wooden planks and haphazard torture devices. Among these, Bozo scrawled across one timber machine references to the Auguste clown. While the performance doesn’t follow a linear narrative, it quickly becomes evident that these outcast clowns have turned villainous, and are seeking to eradicate red nose clowns in favour of black.
The trio stoops into absolute madness, triggered by the bell heralding a Bozo clown skit that reveals a glimmer into their brighter past. Suspicion breeds discord among them, a clever balance between humour and horror driving their punishments and infighting. Body horror and the use of food – bananas and cream pies – adds a sickening layer, climaxing in a twisted rendition of the last supper that ties well to a previous Jesus crucifixion bit.
In this performance, which leans more toward buffoon than traditional clowning, each rebel-clown’s synchronised and well-timed chaos owes much to the skill of the artistes and Susie Dee’s expert direction.
Communication between the actors is mostly non-verbal, relying on mutters, trained physicality and exaggerated body language. Jethro Woodward’s sound design underscores the ominous atmosphere, elevating the clown’s meta-choreographed Bozo act and the surreal numbers that scatter the performance like bread-throwing (another nod to the styles of clowns like Charlie Chaplin and Chester Conklin). Andy Turner’s lighting lifts the powdery set and glitter that is thrown around the stage, intensifying the blurry grime-coated chaos.
Clare Bartholomew, Nicci Wilks and Mozes are each compelling and distinctive in their own right, somehow balancing charm and terror in every glance toward the audience, making it nearly impossible to fixate on just one. Wilks’ physically, her transformation within the colourful inflatable clown suit, shrinking and creeping up to full height, is particularly brilliant.
Each element rises to the rickety, blood-stained table in this production, making for a well-oiled, well-balanced and visually arresting show. The Long Pigs is a is a filthy masterwork from start to finish; you’ll laugh, you’ll gag and you certainly won’t forget it.
The Long Pigs, Theatre Works
Devisers/Creators: Clare Bartholomew, Derek Ives-Plunkett, Nicci Wilks
Deviser/Director: Susie Dee
Set Design: Anna Tregloan
Sound Design: Jethro Woodward
Lighting Design: Andy Turner
Assistant Stage Managers: Ella Curtis Webster, Emma Maggio, Tyson Wallent
Cast: Clare Bartholomew, Mozes, Nicci Wilks