Nasty noses

Gail Priest: Suzie Dee, The Long Pigs

Nicci Wilks, Derek Ives, Clare Bartholomew,  The Long Pigs

Nicci Wilks, Derek Ives, Clare Bartholomew, The Long Pigs

Nicci Wilks, Derek Ives, Clare Bartholomew, The Long Pigs

It’s become a contemporary cliché, thanks to the murderous activities of John Wayne Gacy and subsequent media myth creation, that clowns are evil. Of course clowns have always been naughty, deviant even—the role the jester was allocated in the Middle Ages—but have they been given an undeservedly bad rap? Absolutely not if The Long Pigs are an example—these guys are really nasty.

Derek Ives, Clare Bartholomew and Nicci Wilks are the Long Pigs (devised and directed by Susie Dee). They wear minimal clown make-up but have big black noses and are dressed in drab grey clothing including filthy aprons and oversized hairnets in a kind of hybrid factory-cum-medical worker style. Physically they are variously tiny, tall and round but stature is no indication of status. It’s slippery, the question as to who’s the top pig is in constant flux. That said they make an efficient team—antithetical to the usual clown bumbling—and they have a job to do. It seems they are in the canning industry, packaging what I initially thought were tomatoes but then realised were red noses. The show begins with a wonderfully inventive and complicated routine involving pulleys, pedalling and planks of the wood with which to move a single red object from one side of the stage to the other. The routine has the precision and playfulness of a Peter Fischli & David Weiss installation. But there’s a problem, they are one red nose short. There’s the inference that a greater force will be most unhappy about this.

The show moves seamlessly through scenes and routines with lateral connections in pursuit of the missing nose. At one stage Ives is crucified and the other two run around the audience collecting money for “Jesus,” uttered as squeak, about the only word in the show. And they’re pretty pushy about it. The trio then begin to turn on each other until eventually, after Wilks appears somehow transformed with a red nose, their true evil natures are revealed. She is de-nosed, returning with a bleeding bandage wrapped around her face and is forced to eat her own seeping former facial feature.

With no dialogue, the sound score drives the work, Jethro Woodward doing an excellent job not only with all the synced sound effects but in finding a fine balance between ominous and ambiguous. The set design by Anna Tregloan is also integral, with dirty sheets, ladders, buckets and planks forming the basic elements which are reconfigured in surprising ways. And as every show seems to need something to fall from the ceiling these days, the rain of red noses at the conclusion is both amusing and unsettling.

I saw Long Pigs at the end of my four-day FOLA immersion (see page 15). It’s testament to the quality and creativity of the production and the skills of the performers that The Long Pigs could draw me into such a different performance mode. I mean, I haven’t watched clowns in years—because really, they are way too scary.

The Long Pigs, devisor, director Susie Dee, devisors, performers Derek Ives, Clare Bartholomew, Nicci Wilks, sound Jethro Woodward, design Anna Tregloan, lighting Andy Turner, producer Insite Arts; Fortyfive Downstairs; 12-23 March

RealTime issue #120 April-May 2014 pg. 42

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

22 April 2014