“Thanks for coming Harry, don’t step over there, you’ll fall through the floor.”
Tash Hodgson, old pal and noted scamp, leads me into the rehearsal room in Jackson’s Lane theatre where her and the rest of the Kill The Beast crew are rehearsing their upcoming play – The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, based on the novel by former Doctor Who and the big voice of Little Britain Tom Baker.
“I’ll just set my laptop down over h—“
“DON’T STEP OVER THERE YOU’LL FALL THROUGH THE FLOOR!”
As interviews go, I knew this wasn’t going to be your average Q&A. Then again, as theatre companies go, Kill The Beast aren’t your average company. Last Halloween I attended their spectacular Dr. Ezra Tallboys Travelling Nightmares, a twisted piece of Victoriana excess combined with a jilted husband, a murdered bride and a quite phenomenal dance-off to finish. The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is their latest venture and has already garnered a slew of acclaim – What’s On Stage gave it 5 stars and The Public Review said “the most well delivered moment of black humour I have seen on stage.” Bear in mind that this is not a novel that naturally lends itself to the stage – the story of thirteen year old Robert Caligari and his nasty habit of kicking pigs, the consequences of which range from shark mutilation to a potential apocalypse to a pretty extreme motorway pile up. So, where do you start?
“Finding the narrative and the story has been the hardest thing, creating the world on stage. We were good at writing the sketches, but finding the meat of the story was a bit more difficult. In the end we were really surprised by how faithful to the book we stayed!”
And, what did the Time Lord himself have to say?
“He called it ‘surprisingly successful!’ – he had as many questions about how we’d stage it as we did! The good thing was we had to show him a draft before we got the rights, so we were immediately forced into writing. We’d each go away, write a draft, then come back a week later, read each other’s and work from there. From the get-go we’ve been incredibly collaborative and un-precious with our writing, and we tend to agree quite a lot anyway”
Kill The Beast emerged from the University of Warwick where four of the five members studied and bonded over their love of dark comedy and British humour, in particular The League Of Gentlemen. It was director Clem Garrity who had the idea to adapt The Boy Who Kicked Pigs initially:
“I read the book when I was younger and it’d been in the back of my head for a while. My background was in design so I started thinking about it visually, drawing on stuff like The League of Gentlemen and that blend of comedy and horror. The illustrations in the book lend themselves to a bit of a Tim Burton feel, but very English. Then I was talking to Porl Cooper, the producer at The Lowry in Manchester, and I mentioned wanting to do it...it just got commissioned there, a kind of happy accident really!”
So, with the book being so expansive, and staging it being such a challenge, what did you try and focus in on in the play?
“We we think we managed to captures how brutal the book is, to everyone, it takes no prisoners, everyone gets ripped apart! We found that difficult at first, but then we just went, “fuck it, he’s a horrible boy who exists in a horrible world, ” a bit like Roald Dahl in that way, when the audience is complicit in everything that’s happening. That’s what we tried to play on – the horrible enjoyment of horrible things, the relish you feel when you’re chatting with your friends about the massacre that’s just happened somewhere”
After their run at Jackson’s Lane – March 5th-March 16th – Kill The Beast are heading up to Edinburgh to take on The Fringe. I had my first Fringe experience recently and was utterly blown away by the sheer scale of the operation up there, just how many performers go and ply their wares for the festival. It’s like Deptford High Street on a Saturday, but instead of traders selling all manner of odds and sods, it’s performers dressed up handing out reams upon reams of flyers and desperately drumming up publicity. So many people making art for art’s sake, and Kill The Beast fall into that category.
“There’s no money in fringe theatre, but there’s enough creativity and enough community, and it’s incredibly exciting at the moment. And because of that community people want to go and see each other’s stuff, take inspiration and collaborate.
Saying that, we think we’re quite unique. It’s sketch comedy, with a through-line narrative, but also with a massive design element. At the end of the day we want to make people laugh.”
And laugh you will, just, for the love of God, don’t step over there, you’ll fall through the floor.
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs is playing at Jackson’s Lane Theatre, Highgate, London between March 5-March 16. Tickets are available here.
The Boy Who Kicked Pigs was commissioned by and developed in association with Porl Cooper and The Lowry Theatre (and Kill The Beast were subsequently asked to be their Associate Artists)
Kill The Beast are performing in London as a co-production with Sarah Brown productions. Costumes are by Nina Scott and Rachel Schofield Owen, music is by Ben Osborn, projection by Bryan Woltjen