The hardest part of this job, the quote-unquote theatre critic racket, is when you’re required to approach something you greatly enjoyed from an objective viewpoint, weighing all the good parts against the bad ones even though usually with those kinds of shows it’s hard to pick out bad parts. For example: Londonist greatly enjoyed The Boy Who Kicked Pigs. It’s a very funny show, anarchic, energetic – and honestly that’s probably all that matters for a £13 ticket.
This is an adaptation of Tom Baker’s short novel of the same name, a darkly absurd tale in the style of a children’s book with twisted Quentin Blake-esque illustrations. In the book and the show, Robert Caligari is that boy who kicked pigs – even though he kicks only one in the show, with a grandiose voice supplied by Oliver Jones – and subsequently plots murder in a string of events that don’t make a lot of sense, but which are a lot of fun to watch unfold.
Theatre company Kill the Beast are five people, four of whom are on stage, playing roughly 200 characters apiece and often unrecognisable thanks to inhuanly swift costume changes and subtle shifts of voice, mannerisms, “aura”. Particularly impressive are the pair of musical interludes and scenes of chaos towards the end of the show, with all four on stage and hopping about in a sequence that’s more like a dance performance than it is a comedic one. While all four of them are excellent at what they do, most impressive is David Cumming as the titular Boy and hosts of others, showboating across and around the stage gloriously.
For The Boy Who Kicked Pigs the stage at Jackson’s Lane is kept empty almost throughout the show except for a few chairs. The “sets”, such as they are, are these intricate dioramas filmed and displayed behind the players. The setup is an interesting one, but it’s not always effective – there’s no real sense of space, so it’s hard to get anchored in the universe. There is another issue, carried over from the source material: The Boy Who Kicked Pigs owes much to a twisted pseudo-gothic style that brings to mind Tim Burton’s oeuvre, and as such never develops a visual style of its own. But, whatever, those filmed sets are gorgeous – they’re on display in the foyer, too.
Likewise, some of the scene changes are abrupt and the characters, some of them only on-stage for a single scene, don’t get much chance to be fleshed out into full comedic entities. As a whole, it’s not fully cohesive. It feels sort of random. Like we said, it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but perhaps it doesn’t have to: Kill the Beast carry the skeletal narrative with excellent wordplay, memorable character bits, and an unexpectedly heartbreaking climax.
Here’s the objective view, then: The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is very funny, but after all the laughter, your face will hurt by the end of it.
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is at the Jackson’s Lane Theatre, Highgate, until 16 March. Tickets £14.95 /£12.95 available at the Jackson’s Lane website.