LemonSoap productions’ newest play Piglet ran at the New Theatre from April 18 to 22. Full of Jennifer Coolidge impressions and food sabotage, Piglet tells the story of Mercy Munroe, a girl who has dropped out of college to work in an Offaly fish and chips shop. When Mercy’s two ex-best friends unexpectedly reappear, chaos ensues as she prepares to deliver their doom.
One highlight of the show was undoubtedly the script. Penned as well as directed by Ultan Pringle, Piglet managed to be simultaneously hilarious, unnerving and sad – sometimes flowing together to form a dissonant melody of all three emotions.
“The overall effect of Hartin’s performance was both riveting and terrifying.”
Moreover, the script was fully brought to life by Lora Hartin’s performance. Hartin alternatively danced across the stage, to a song that brought to mind the A24 movie Pearl, and monologued from a foetal – or piglike – position from the floor. The overall effect of her performance was both riveting and terrifying. At times her character Mercy is reminiscent of Killing Eve’s Villanelle, or of Ophelia during her mad scene, although, unlike them, she is prone to spontaneous bouts of oinking. This is crucial – her unpredictability reminds us that Mercy is her own swinelike creation.
Despite the artifice in Mercy’s presentation to others, as a character she does not feel contrived. The level of detail granted prevents her breakdown from feeling inauthentic or generalised. Instead, it feels very personal. When Mercy declares that she has smeared saliva in the battered haddock, we fully believe in her reality, which necessitates such drastic measures. That Hartin is able to embody Mercy in all her turbulent glory is a testament to her acting abilities.
“Don’t call her crazy. Call her Ham-lette.”
The play is premised entirely on Mercy’s past, and Hartin renders this past heartbreakingly real. Eyes wide open, hoping that her enemies rot, Mercy recounts how she flashed her Gender Studies class one day – a line, among others, that Hartin completely strips the sanity from. The audience laughs but also winces. One has the sense, as Mercy recollects the day she broke with reality, that she is still reliving it with every waking moment. She paints the scene for us in violent, bloody streaks. Don’t call her crazy. Call her Ham-lette.
Hartin also portrays Mercy’s ex-friends, employer, mother and Jennifer Coolidge in impressions that, as is expected from any work that invokes the latter, are chaotically enjoyable. These impressions also further the sense that Mercy is an unreliable narrator. Her unreliability is confirmed when her ex-girlfriend Gemma, in a layered performance by Sophie Lenglinger, enters the picture, and offers a very different version of events from the one Mercy has presented. It turns out that Mercy may not be the victim we thought she was; there is something rotten in Offaly beyond the fish and chips.
Sound (Owen Clarke) and lighting (HK Ní Shioradáin) also contribute to the sense that we are in Mercy’s world. Sound effects and the shifting of the spotlight work together to reflect her inner turmoil. The sensation that her everyday life is a consummate performance with no end in sight is also highlighted by Mercy’s tutu, sunglasses and headscarf (Toni Bailey), which she donned like protective armour…
“For isn’t womanhood just one, big performance?”
For isn’t womanhood just one, big performance? Mercy’s theatricality playfully calls attention to this reality, one that exceeds the boundaries of the stage. In seizing control of the narrative, Mercy’s rants are chaotic, deranged – and cathartic. More than anything, I found it refreshing to behold an unapologetically insane play centred around female relationships. Women are frequently called overemotional and irrational by men, but this play takes an eraser to the narrative and bludgeons the men from the picture. Piglet embraces the dark side of womanhood by blowing up the complicated relationships women share, from dysfunctional friendships, to toxic relationships, to maternal dynamics.
I also appreciated how, ultimately, the play resists attempts to define Mercy as a villain or a victim, or tie up her loose ends, and have her tearfully recant her past actions. Instead she remains a morally ambiguous figure, hard to pin down, thoroughly disillusioned and delusional, who must reckon with what might have been and looks unsteadily to an uncertain future. Which, in all honesty, don’t we all?