Pigs and Dogs at the Royal Court Theatre
With the theatre in the middle of its 60th anniversary, one cannot imagine a better celebration of the Royal Court’s committal to new and provocative writing than Caryl Churchill’s searing indictment of homophobia, Pigs and Dogs.
There is a danger to someone like Churchill, a white straight Englishwoman, tackling the topic of homosexuality in Africa (inspired by Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act); one could argue it is not her story to tell. However, the explicit acknowledgement of the historical (and indeed present-day) influence of European and American powers, from the colonial exportation of aggressive anti-gay sentiment to the role of the modern Christian extremism in stoking the flames of hatred, joins the exploration of the myth that homosexuality is an alien concept to the continent, a repeated claim by politicians in countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa. By addressing the Western seed of this intolerance Churchill ensures her play has an international edge, avoiding the smug finger-pointing that could have arisen in lesser hands.
Constructed from a series of quotes, be they from politicians, anthropologists or a selection of personal testimonies (many taken from Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands: Studies in African homosexualties, the book that provides the spine of the play) the rhythm of Pigs and Dogs is complemented by Dominic Cooke’s kinetic direction. The former artistic director of the Royal Court has the three actors almost tag-teaming each other into scenes and characters in a way that resembles slam poetry or longform improv more than it does traditional drama.
As for the actors, well, it is hardly surprisingly that a trio as talented as Fisayo Akinade (Channel 4’s Cucumber), Alex Hassell (the RSC’s Henry V) and Sharon D Clarke (the NT’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) are as electrifying as they are. The three shift between gender, sexuality, and, most controversially, race as they map a history of not only attitudes to homosexuality but generations of African gender fluidity that eclipses the strict ideas of male and female the West is only just beginning to grapple with.
It would be very easy to dismiss a piece of theatre as short as Pigs and Dogs (it clocks in at a swift 15 minutes). Yet Churchill, who seems to be mirroring the progression of Beckett in favouring an intense brevity later in her career, may have produced the most important play currently on stage in London.
Photo: Helen Murray
Pigs and Dogs is on at the Royal Court Theatre from 20th to 30th July 2016, for further information or to book a visit here.