Pig Girl at the Finborough
In a decrepit barn in rural Canada, a dying woman is left to the mercy of her killer. Miles away, her sister begs a sympathetic but bureaucratically-bound police officer to file a missing person’s report.
Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy’s Pig Girl is a provocative thriller. Inspired by real events – in 2010, a Vancouver man was convicted after the remains of over 30 women were found on his pig farm – Murphy focuses on the plight of one unnamed woman, soon to be the latest victim of a cold-blooded serial killer.
In 2014, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police reported that there have been more than 1,100 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada since 1980. Pig Girl aims to humanise what a cynical London audience may dismiss as unfortunate statistics. In Canada, Murphy is one of many voices demanding a national inquiry into what some are calling a “sociological phenomenon”. As yet, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has refused to comply.
Depicting both sides of the gruesome crime onstage, Pig Girl is relentless in its portrayal. For 90 minutes we are subject to the agonising screams of a tortured woman, the laughter of her manic captor and the emotional breakdown her sister and a police officer, as they search for answers to no avail. But although the dying woman is central to this story, it is the relationship between her sister and her police officer antagonist who hold our suspense by asking the pivotal question: why is nothing being done to find her?
“If my sister were rich and white you’d look for her”, the sister accuses, in a heartrending performance by Olivia Darnley. In turn, the officer (Joseph Rye) muses that if her sister were a toddler, there’d be a “halo” of search lights – in the hunt for a lost child, the fuzz are always viewed as heroes.
What makes this fictional case problematic – along with many of the real ones – is the fact that the dying woman isn’t an ideal victim. She’s a drug addict and prostitute, someone the public may perceive as having contributed significantly to her own demise. But is that any reason to deny her justice?
Pig Girl is undeniably “on the nose” in its frank portrayal of events, and one can’t escape the question of whether dramatising a drawn-out and grisly murder onstage is somewhat exploitative. There’s no real attempt to flesh-out the killer, either: he remains an impenetrable caricature, as unfortunately does his victim, whose fate is decided from the start. Nameless and without real autonomy, she is never fully realised as a three-dimensional figure.
Murphy’s script is lyrical with moments of remarkable clarity, but it chiefly articulates a frustrating and depressing truth: that perhaps good can’t always outweigh evil.
Pig Girl is on at Finborough Theatre until 16th February 2015, for further information or to book visit here.