Familiar yet surprising, borderline ghastly and very funny, this production is slickly performed with sharp, skilled expression.
Derek Ives, Clare Bartholomew and Nicci Wilks. Image by Ponch Hawkes.
There is murderousness in all of us. Devised and performed by Clare Bartholomew (half of the hugely successful cabaret duo, Die Roten Punkte) with Nicci Wilks and Derek Ives, and directed by Susie Dee, The Long Pigs is a precise and witty, mimed sideshow ride like no other, a surreal and funny exploration of the scary clowns of nightmares. The Long Pigs started life at La Mama as part of their Explorations program and draws comparisons to another clowning wonder, Slava’s Snowshow.
The set (by Anna Tregloan) could be a decayed lunatic asylum or an abandoned surgery; a degraded place draped with filthy curtains, home to three macabre clown butchers maniacally employed in tormenting each other and processing - via an odd mechanical production line made of tins and buckets - red clown noses. Small betrayals and cruelties simultaneously create suspense and laughter in a context in which malevolence is conveyed by childlike antics. Familiar yet surprising, borderline ghastly and very funny, this production is slickly performed with a sharp, skilled use of expression and mime producing an hilarious destruction of any vestige of comfort the image of a circus clown may yet retain.
The three dirty clowns create fabulously funny tableaux involving such horrors as a hanged jack in the box, deranged circus routines, a crucifixion, a hideous birth, cannibalism, deflating fat suits and an invitation to participate in a staged hanging, all of it hugely laugh-worthy. Discomfort goes hand in hand with glee; a mediaeval quality to the antics hints at gruesome spectacle, all of it finely balanced. Sound design by Jethro Woodward is perfect, almost a character in itself.
The Long Pigs (the name is Melanesian pidgin English for human flesh) continually reminds us how we’re complicit in its particular evil; every time we laugh at the clowns, we create more of the horror. It’s a dark and self-aware comedy, the dark clowning giving us an opportunity to do something other than cry or rage at the terrible and callous tendencies in human beings, and be appalled at ourselves while we laugh. This is excellent theatre: confident, original, meaty and funny, and this production offers us the space to reflect on our human capacity to find humour in suffering, lending depth to a very entertaining show.
Rich in imagery, slapstick and physical detail, The Long Pigs yet achieves a dignity in its silliness. There are few actual words but the performers’ utterances, hoots and mumbles add to the soundscape. Its theatrical form owes much to the tradition of the mischievously knowing European bouffon, combined with the traditionally unaware and innocent family circus clown. There is a story of sorts to The Long Pigs, a beginning, middle and an end - but to say any more would be to ruin its many surprises. Very highly recommended.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The Long Pigs
Produced by Insite Arts
Devised and performed by Clare Bartholomew, Derek Ives and Nicci Wilks
Directed by Susie Dee
Set design: Anna Tregloan
Sound design: Jetho Woodward
Lighting design: Andy Turner
Production and stage manager: Rebecca Moore
fortyfive downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne
12 – 23 March
First published on
What the stars mean?
- Five stars: Exceptional, unforgettable, a must see
- Four and a half stars: Excellent, definitely worth seeing
- Four stars: Accomplished and engrossing but not the best of its kind
- Three and a half stars: Good, clever, well made, but not brilliant
- Three stars: Solid, enjoyable, but unremarkable or flawed
- Two and half stars: Neither good nor bad, just adequate
- Two stars: Not without its moments, but ultimately unsuccessful
- One star: Awful, to be avoided
- Zero stars: Genuinely dreadful, bad on every level