"The Long Pigs is a dirty little masterpiece, and it’ll change the way you think about clowning. It might even go some of the way to curing your fears. Get your tickets before this clown car leaves town."Byron Bache

Porcine clowns shine in the dark of black comedy The Long Pigs

The Long Pigs is an hour of clowning with a dark and dangerous vibe, elegantly designed and devised by some of the brightest talents on Melbourne's independent theatre scene.

Clowns can be a source of horror as well as hilarity. Without cruelty there is no festival, as Nietzsche put it, and the climax of this show certainly bears out his maxim.

The ''long pigs'' of the title are a troupe of three black-nosed clowns (Clare Bartholomew, Derek Ives and Nicci Wilks). They look mean, and soon begin to reveal genocidal tendencies, unveiling the drapes on a complex production line that smushes up and cans the red-nosed juices of their innocuous, fluffy cousins.

It's the clown equivalent of ethnic cleansing, though within the sociopathic frame there's a fair bit of traditional slapstick and briskly choreographed knockabout comedy.

They never last long. Jethro Woodward's morbid, suspenseful soundtrack keeps dragging us back from the lighter side of the carnivalesque into the shadows, and given the piece is inspired by the darkest of human impulses - to ostracise, hate, torture and kill - the comedy tends to be savage and grotesque.

In one sequence two of the clowns crucify the third in parody of the passion of Jesus (a broken tambourine for the crown of thorns). A As the violence escalates, Anna Tregloan's set, full of visual reveals, unleashes one last absurd and sinister surprise.

Superior physical performance, sharp direction, outrageous humour and intelligent design make this a dark-hearted jewel.

Weird, wonderful game of clowns

IN his memoir, the king of clowns Grock wrote about extracting mirth from nothing and that “the genius of clowning is transforming the little, everyday annoyances ... into something strange and terrific.” Angela Carter’s fictional clown king, Buffo, belches and says “bollocks” to Grock’s argument. Buffo reckons “the beauty of clowning is that nothing ever changes”.

And that’s the line this ingenious and maddening show follows. It presents us with a fixed, unchanging clown universe. In this sinister, self-contained world, the rules of logic are utterly alien. Clowning isn’t an occupation, it’s a state of mind. And of being. Between public performances of their well-honed act, three clowns (Clare Bartholomew, Nicci Wilks and Derek Ives) slave away on a sweatshop production line, sorting and packing red noses into cans. Anna Tregloan’s set is like a Rube Goldberg contraption. Even the rules of narrative are flipped. In the world of The Long Pigs, music isn’t incidental or responding to the narrative, it actually is the narrative. Jethro Woodward’s score is extraordinarily agile, as spooky and sprung as the best of Bernard Herrmann. With a dash of Prokofiev for good measure. It’s as if Woodward is bullying the characters and directing stage traffic himself.

While the words in this piece are few, and the tricks are many, this is unquestionably a piece of theatre. The acting stands up to the closest scrutiny. Watching Wilks slowly inhale a chocolate eclair is like witnessing some kind of ritualistic sex act. Ives plays Christ crucified and a Gitmo prisoner in a stress position with a tambourine crown of thorns. Like a lot of the performing in the show, smartly directed by co-deviser Susie Dee, Ives manages to be ambiguous without ever appearing non-committal.

Members of the downtrodden trio take turns bullying each other, forming and reforming into opportunistic gangs and divvying up scraps of food. Especially bananas, as their skins feature in the regular stage acts.

The Long Pigs is juvenile, blasphemous and almost completely inexplicable. But it is probably the most engrossing and satisfying work of physical theatre I’ve seen in the better part of a decade: strange and terrific indeed.

Reviewer rating: Rating: 4out of 5stars

Long Pigs review: Macabre, clown-quashing black comedy

In dim, hazy light three dusky figures with black clown noses arrive for more murderous work. Specifically, extinguishing their red-nosed cousins with methodical vigour.

The trio, dressed in grey and shambolic clothes that mix abattoir worker with surgeon, hustle and sort their bloody hunting trophies - bright red joke noses - from rusty bucket to tin can.

Their relish for this nasty task is infectious.

Decorated in limp, dirty white curtains, tall, wobbly ladders and rough wooden planks serving as tables, slapstick see-saws and a sinister jack-in-the-box, the threesome's factory resembles a dark, dusty dungeon of a workhouse.

Swinging between their hearty love for this lethal work and sinisterly parodying their clown targets, the workers realise something is up. A red nose is missing.

The Long Pigs, which is directed by Susie Dee and takes its title from the Melanesian Pidgin phrase for human flesh, blends the gallows humour of the bouffon with the wide-smiled circus clown bearing a confetti bucket and a tiny, break-apart bicycle.

We3's Clare Bartholomew, Derek Ives and Nicci Wilks create compelling anti-clowns, knee-deep in murderous, almost word-less subterfuge against the world's Bozos, Cocos, Bubbles and Zig and Zags.

In parts, their deeds are deliciously hard to watch.

Ives is mock-crucified so his comrades can spuriously seek alms from the audience. There is extravagant, but very believable, violence: body parts are severed and one meal features an act of unforgettable and climatic cannibalism.

Their intent, and the production line of canned red noses, conjures thoughts of ethnic cleansing and moral exclusion.

Jethro Woodward's tense, sweeping and climatic soundtrack makes the heart thump in mouth-watering fear at times.

But Bartholomew, Ives and Wilks are the stars. Consummate physical performers, they convey rich and vivid characters steeped in playful viciousness and a perennial commitment to malevolent greed

STEPHEN King has a lot to answer for. Children have always been afraid of clowns, but Pennywise, — the murderous clown from King’s 1986 novel It — created two generations of adult coulrophobics.

The Long Pigs is 75 minutes of clowning, but even if you’re deathly afraid of curly rainbow wigs, floppy shoes and squirty flowers, you’ll be fine.

“Long pig” is slang for human meat, and these black-nosed clowns aren’t out for blood, they’re out for noses; the red noses of their mainstream counterparts.

Ostracised from their cheerful brethren, these three misfits spend their days operating a sort-of Rube Goldberg production line that cans the excised noses of their victims.

But it’s not all dark. Clare Bartholomew, Derek Ives and Nicci Wilks, the three “pigs”, dish out pathos and hilarity in equal measure. The gags are killer and so are the clowns.

Co-devised by the performers and director Susie Dee, The Long Pigs is entirely non-verbal. It’s a creepy, brilliant and touching subversion of the form — almost anti-clowning.

The literal and metaphorical slaughter of traditional clowns could be heavy-handed, but there’s more to laugh at in greasy darkness than there is in a floodlit big top. Dee’s light touch, coupled with the performers’ incredible physical dexterity and perfect timing, makes wine out of water.

The show looks and sounds incredible — Anna Trelgoan’s abattoir-cum-playground set is a dirty curtained delight, Jethro Woodward’s astonishing score is as terrifying as it is gleefully bombastic, and Andy Turner’s lighting is magic.

The Long Pigs is a dirty little masterpiece, and it’ll change the way you think about clowning. It might even go some of the way to curing your fears. Get your tickets before this clown car leaves town.

There is murderousness in all of us. Devised and performed by Clare Bartholomew (half of the hugely successful cabaret duo, Die Roten Punkte) with Nicci Wilks and Derek Ives, and directed by Susie Dee, The Long Pigs is a precise and witty, mimed sideshow ride like no other, a surreal and funny exploration of the scary clowns of nightmares. The Long Pigs started life at La Mama as part of their Explorations program and draws comparisons to another clowning wonder, Slava’s Snowshow.

The set (by Anna Tregloan) could be a decayed lunatic asylum or an abandoned surgery; a degraded place draped with filthy curtains, home to three macabre clown butchers maniacally employed in tormenting each other and processing - via an odd mechanical production line made of tins and buckets - red clown noses. Small betrayals and cruelties simultaneously create suspense and laughter in a context in which malevolence is conveyed by childlike antics. Familiar yet surprising, borderline ghastly and very funny, this production is slickly performed with a sharp, skilled use of expression and mime producing an hilarious destruction of any vestige of comfort the image of a circus clown may yet retain.

The three dirty clowns create fabulously funny tableaux involving such horrors as a hanged jack in the box, deranged circus routines, a crucifixion, a hideous birth, cannibalism, deflating fat suits and an invitation to participate in a staged hanging, all of it hugely laugh-worthy. Discomfort goes hand in hand with glee; a mediaeval quality to the antics hints at gruesome spectacle, all of it finely balanced. Sound design by Jethro Woodward is perfect, almost a character in itself.

The Long Pigs (the name is Melanesian pidgin English for human flesh) continually reminds us how we’re complicit in its particular evil; every time we laugh at the clowns, we create more of the horror. It’s a dark and self-aware comedy, the dark clowning giving us an opportunity to do something other than cry or rage at the terrible and callous tendencies in human beings, and be appalled at ourselves while we laugh. This is excellent theatre: confident, original, meaty and funny, and this production offers us the space to reflect on our human capacity to find humour in suffering, lending depth to a very entertaining show.

Rich in imagery, slapstick and physical detail, The Long Pigs yet achieves a dignity in its silliness. There are few actual words but the performers’ utterances, hoots and mumbles add to the soundscape. Its theatrical form owes much to the tradition of the mischievously knowing European bouffon, combined with the traditionally unaware and innocent family circus clown. There is a story of sorts to The Long Pigs, a beginning, middle and an end - but to say any more would be to ruin its many surprises. Very highly recommended.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

For many, clowns are terrifying – but in this Brechtian movement piece they become genuinely evil

Reviewer rating: Rating: 4out of 5stars

Within a grey underground setting, three black-nosed clowns set about a malevolent task. At first their aim is unclear. They may be constructing an unusually large game of Mouse Trap. Soon the only colour in the setting is revealed, however: the convoluted contraption is revealed to be a cannery for clown noses. The red kind. These are clown cannibals.

The scenario shifts and shifts again as the absurdity and surreality of the theme is explored. The traumatic trio betray each other to varying degrees, through movement, violence, humiliation and the audience – called upon at one point to exchange monetary donations for the opportunity to throw bread at a crucified clown.

Oddly in being overtly evil, these clowns are in many ways easier to watch than their colourful cousins. This is not a show designed to be overly entertaining or entirely comprehensible, yet it is enough of both to satisfy and inspire.

The real talent comes in the constantly kinetic display. This is a perfect use of movement based theatre: visceral, visual and violent all at once.

Physical theatre supergroup with particularly black humour, WE3, bring The Long Pigs to Sydney Festival. These sooty-nosed clowns aren’t quite right. WE3’s regalia is shabby, like their innocence. Their dirty little hands are conspiring, selfish, gluttonous, cannibalistic and animal: they’re in a pig-eat-pig world where exclusion, derision and brutality get you places. Caught between their mundane reality with its status quo security, and a forbidden fantasy of colour and joy, the three clowns non-verbally quest for mental and physical sustenance. Slippery bananas, a clowning stock-standard, come to represent not only humiliation but human meat (“long pig” is Melanesian Pidgin for human flesh). Bananas are the currency that affords these sorry souls survival. Every banana is a life; well, the life of a joke.

The wide stage is set like an abattoir or dusty factory. Shadowy clumps dangle from the ceiling like carcasses shrouding forgotten furniture. Silly-walking industrial underlings shuffle in to go about their repetitive, drab and nonsensical business. This factory routine, a meta-jab at comedy, is merciless. Jesting calls for freshness amid stale replication and these clowns know it, mock it and yet live it.

Nicci Wilks, Clare Bartholomew and Derek Ives-Plunkett make up the paranoid and disenfranchised comic trio. Director Susie Dee, along with set-designer Anna Tregloan and lighting guru Andy Turner bring the wags’ inner workings into a spatial concept. It’s Jethro Woodward’s engaging score though that balances macabre with ludicrous, synchronising intent with action.

So much is mysterious and left so. Why are these grim buffoons manufacturing—or is it murderously collecting—red noses? Are they feeding them to something? Do they work together or against each other? Their satire scissors at Judeo-Christian sanctimony and uses the divide between black- and red-noses as a metaphor for racism. They even deride the entertainment industry when they clamber into the audience to take payments from patrons who might like to stone Jesus (who is crucified on stage) from their seats. Violence is okay when it’s funny, and it’s even more okay when you pay good money for it.

It’s not often in the theatre that you suddenly realise you are in the presence of creative genius – but this love-child of Sweeney Todd, Stephen King, Charles Dickens and the Ringling Brothers is simply sensational. Like the internationally-acclaimed Slava’s Snowshow (which was the last time magic happened in the theatre for me to this extent), The Long Pigs harvests the rich, tragi-comedic terrain of Clown with unprecedented creativity and skill.

Ms Tregloan, Mr Turner and Ms Carr transform the familiar 45 Downstairs space into a marvellously inventive industrialised environment – one that is not only the finest design for the theatre in recent memory, but is also a brilliantly-realised installation that continually reveals its treasures for the entire performance. The finale not only punctuates the night with a startling clarity, but is also an unforgettable coup de theatre.

Ms Bartholomew, Ms Wilks and Mr Ives are terrifyingly good as the trio of disenfranchised, black-nosed clowns, raging against the popularity of their red nose-wearing colleagues. It is a simple premise, yet with the clarity of Ms Dee’s finely-crafted direction within a design wonderland, the complex layers are revealed with potent, and at times, astonishing levels of the purest imagination.

Within Mr Woodward’s masterful soundscape, this ensemble’s dazzling physical vocabulary – accompanied by barely audible, vocalised mumblings, squeaks and mutterings – is absolute perfection. Their journeys, individually and collectively, are beautifully defined – and while audience participation usually makes me want to flee the theatre, the dismantling of the fourth wall on this occasion made me want to leap out of my seat and help.

There are grand and remarkable themes interlaced throughout this work, and even after hours of contemplation, it is impossible to begin to define them all. What does emerge, is that this is an exploration of not only how innately different we are, but how different we aspire to be. And by celebrating the essence of our individuality, we just might be empowered to achieve great things.

As I was walking down Flinders Lane on my way home, I overheard an audience member use the word ‘magnificent’. And I couldn’t agree more. The Long Pigs is magnificent theatre. See it before it disappears overseas to be, I predict unreservedly, a sensational hit.

Clowning in Australia has certainly changed since the days where a trip to the ‘big top’ or festival meant encountering a clown in baggy pants, a silly hat and a big red nose. Not the clowns in The Long Pigs – currently performing at Melbourne’s fortyfivedownstairs.

For seventy-five minutes, the audience was enthralled as three black nose clowns (Clare Bartholomew, Derek Ives, Nicci Wilks) slice the very symbol of innocence off their once red nose cousins, in a mix of mutual distrust and suspicion. As promises are made and ultimately broken, the three turn on themsleves in a fatally funny and destructive climax.

Under Susie Dee’s masterful direction and in collaboration with Bartholomew, Ives and Wilks, they present a stylistically and visually arresting production that is firmly rooted in black comedy and physical theatre. The familiar notion of a clown is dissected in a sinister mix of playful buffoonery and pure evil, where unspeakable acts are made mildly palatable.

Anna Tregloan’s design is brilliant as she transforms the open space of fortyfivedownstairs into a darkened underbelly that features stained curtains, step ladders and over and under sized props, which is complimented by Andy Turner’s stunning lighting design. Jethro Woodward’s soundscape was an enticing exposition of styles from the bold and brassy to the sublime simplicity of a music box.

The Long Pigs is a dramatic and visual feast in which you’ll be totally enthralled. To give a detailed appraise would spoil the element of surprise, just sit back and let it all unfold – but leave the kiddies at home, this ones firmly for the adults.

Hilariously dark and frighteningly funny

Firstly, if you have a fear of clowns, then this show is probably not for you but it doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t go see it. The clowns in The Long Pigs are not your traditional- looking clowns (for the most part).

These guys are dirty and dark with black noses, and are hell-bent on collecting the red noses of other clowns...

The uncanny ability that performers Clare Bartholomew, Nicci Wilks and Derek Ives (who along with director Susie Dee, also devised the show) have to use something as small as a facial expression or taking a step to make their audience get actual stitches from laughing is testament to their darkly funny skills as clowns.

Even with minimal dialogue and the unsettling atmosphere, the cast are able to both convey a strong story and evoke sympathy and empathy from us over their individual and group plights. In fact there are some very suspenseful moments interspersed throughout The Long Pigs which form a great contrast to the more ‘traditional’ clowning that occurs.

All the stage elements blend perfectly in the performance to help create this grim world that is thrust upon us – especially Jethro Woodward’s excellent sound design and composition, as the constant changes from cheery to eerie amplified all the action that was going on on stage.

Furthermore, Anna Tregloan’s nicely creepy set design reminded me of a haunted house-cum- butcher shop with variety of seemingly random objects just strewn about covered by bloody white sheets, and the atmospheric lighting design by Andy Turner was reminiscent of a carnival freak show tent with dim lights casting larger sinister shadows in the background.

So even if you do have that fear of clowns (or coulrophobia), The Long Pigs is a show that still needs to be seen. Even though it’s only March, I can confidently say that this is going to be one of my highlight shows of the year, because how often can you simultaneously be completely entertained and utterly creeped out by the one show?