Pig Farm at St James Theatre
Penned by Greg Kotis, co-writer of the 2001 satirical musical Urinetown, Pig Farm treads similar ground with a slightly different message. Alternately satirising capitalism, greed, social irresponsibility and the struggles of the common man, the play is quick to show us the path that humanity’s over consumption is leading us down. However, despite solid comedy beats and the best efforts of an abundantly capable cast, Pig Farm is transparent and consequently feels tiresome.
Set in a non-descript pig farm in small town USA, the show opens with a glut of worldbuilding. Farm owner Tom (Dan Fredenburgh) holds a grudge against the government and is struggling to make ends meet, despite his ever-growing herd. His dutiful and desperate wife Tina (Charlotte Parry) wants a child and Tim (Erik Odom) is a juvenile delinquent on probation who wants to prove that he’s a man. Thrown into this heady mix of economic depression and sexual frustration is Teddy (Stephen Tompkinson), an overly officious, and slightly inept, environmental officer who enjoys throwing his weight around whilst inspecting the farm.
This hefty chunk of exposition is, thankfully, largely delivered within the first act. However, where other writers might use the remaining stage time to flesh out such character silhouettes, Kotis seems content to recycle these initial insights until a bloody – and protracted – finale. When these caricatures aren’t being reinforced, Pig Farm instead see-saws between a thinly veiled commentary on environmental destruction by way of consumerism and a well-trodden depiction of small-town America, with Tina as a conflicted object of lust for Tom, Tim and Teddy.
It’s a shame that the characters are so two-dimensional as, at times, there are some viscerally funny moments of physical comedy and wordplay to be found within Kotis’s script. Tompkinson in particular shines, striking a great balance between understated physicality (a wry glance at Tina when discussing matters of immorality, for example) and the hapless musings of a self-important government official. Fredenburgh’s performance is also notable, playing the simple and apparently reformed juvenile delinquent to great effect. His role as Tom is enjoyable, if a little hackneyed, and his part in the show’s violent denouement is genuinely funny.
Ultimately, one of the show’s early lines speaks volumes: “Pot-bellied clouds out there,” Tom bemoans in the opening moments of Pig Farm. Pot-bellied indeed, as the show lumbers through the motions with little lasting impact.
Pig Farm is on at the St James Theatre from 21st October until 21st November 2015, for further information or to book visit here.