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Swiniopolis (Pigs)

Teatr Biuro Podrózy
National Theatre Square 2
(2009)

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I suppose anything that makes use of pigs to show exploitation will inevitably be given the adjective Orwellian, as has this work by this Polish theatre company, but despite obvious parallels with Animal Farm it is making a much less sophisticated and specific political criticism than Orwell's work. It is more like a fairytale than a satire and carries the same sort of undercurrents as fairytales do..

It presents us with a playground full of little piglets, porcine snouts and ears above the pink shirts and black skirts or shorts of their school uniforms. The chase each other about, skip, use the skipping rope to have a tug-of-war, slide down slides, throw satchels about and do a bit of bullying of one little boy piglet who has a ribbon in his hair. When a school bell rings they rearrange the schoolyard apparatus as a teacher enters, towering above them (he, like all the adult characters is raised on stilts) and fully masked with a complete pig's head.

The lesson is that of the fundamentalists, creation according to the Book of Genesis - except that God doesn't get a mention. It is Man who is responsible for the earth, the light, the waters - and for pigs and their town of Swiniopolis - and at the end of all his making he is said to be content.

The pig children hand in their homework and then a nurse grown-up appears with a weighing machine and one by one the have to come up to be weighed and measured. Each individual has the measuring callipers applied to a different section of the anatomy, on one little boy his genitals though whether this should be seen as significant or just a speeded up way of saying they were all measured in detail I'm not sure.

One little piglet seems to have been underweight and was caught adding a big book to the scale to bump it up, but they all seem to have passed a test for as a reward they are given a party with coloured lights strung up and a big cake with candles trundled it, but it instead of an age or 'Happy Birthday,' the message it carries is their weight: 180 kg. They don't get a slice of cake but are each given a sort of medal - a triangular identification tag which they wear like an ear-ring.

With the chiming of a clock the dancing and celebration is brought to a close and the piglets packed off to bed, one little female hides, the adults scour the audience looking for her and she is soon rounded up.. When they sleep the story darkens with the entry of a butcher. I'm not going to give you the details but it is the be-ribboned boy piglet who first realises what is going on and makes his protest . Then the others wake and begin a revolt. You can probably guess what happens.

Of course, you could read this as simply an attack on human exploitation of animals - although its very physical theatre style is appropriate for a young audience, it is probably not a show for the very young unless you are all already vegetarian! You could see it as an allegory for any strategy of lies to gain victims' co-operation leading to something harmful.. Its simplicity allows many interpretations from a warning not to believe everything your elders tell you to the lies of politicians or a metaphor for the way one generation sends another to war - but the message doesn't have to be about generations.

The award of farm stock tags instead of cake is so specific that one can't help thinking of concentration camp tattoos; it seems so odd that it emphasises the way we accept the behaviour and beliefs of the society we are raised in. The bullied ribboned male could represent any kind of difference or specifically be gay and his stand the way repressed minorities have often been the ones to lead resistance and revolutionary movements but the highlight of this fifty-minute show for me is something purely theatrical, a menacing ritual stilt dance with knives and choppers.

Final performances at the National Theatre 8th August 2009
Teatr Biuro Podrozy are also performing "Macbeth: Who is that Bloodied Man" in Square 2 until 7th August 2009

Reviewer: Howard Loxton