Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs (***/1/2)
They’re getting shorter and shorter, in fact Caryl Churchill’s Pigs & Dogs runs just 15 minutes, even more condensed than her controversial Seven Jewish Children.
And like Seven Jewish Children, you could argue, Pigs & Dogs is polemic – clever, subtle, but adopting a stance at a time when, in this country at least, gender assignment, could hardly be more topical.
Giving a generous credit to a book she says Pigs & Dogs is `substantially based on’ – Stephen O Murray and Will Roscoe’s Boy-Wives and Female-Husbands – Pigs & Dogs ranges through time and cultures in its short quarter of an hour span, creating a startling rebuttal of Christian missionaries whose colonisation of Africa in recent times has taken on the form of the exportation of moral values.
We’re losing America
We’re winning in Africa.’
With extraordinary concision, Churchill contrasts how homosexuality and transgender have been an accepted part of African culture down the centuries, only for them to become demonised thanks to religious promptings from the West and particularly the USA.
`Inspired’ by the passing of Uganda’s 2014 Anti-Homosexuality Act, you can’t fault Churchill for choosing to highlight it with what amounts to a shockingly effective expose of malign western influence even if its brevity begs the question of its theatrical credentials.
Director Dominic Cooke carefully dramatises Churchill’s sometimes oblique prose with his three actors Fisayo Akinade, the great Sharon D Clarke, and the RSC’s sometime alumni, Alex Hassell taking it in turns to flesh out a `character’ and generally make sense of probably one of the shortest theatre pieces in history (saving Beckett’s pardon).**
Interestingly, Pigs and Dogs – the quote is from President Mugabe: `If dogs and pigs don’t do it, why must human beings?’ – sometimes begins to sound like an echo of Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs. How ahead of her time she was in her realisation of colonialism’s tentacles spreading into every aspect of African lives is mirrored here in Churchill over 60 years later.
Ever the restless pioneers and breakers of moulds, never content to repeat a format or style, wouldn’t a meeting between Churchill and Hansberry have been something!
** I am reliably informed by my pal, the great cartoonist, Ros Asquith that Tom Stoppard wrote a 10 minute Hamlet with a 2/3 minute version for those `short on concentration’. Performed at Inter-Action and outside the National Theatre.