The Long Pigs at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: pitch-black clowning madness
It would be hard to imagine a more atmospheric venue than the Assembly Roxy. Taking up an entire, ornate church, we’re ushered from the warm Edinburgh evening into a murky, slightly damp atmosphere. Haze drifts through the passageway, with patterned lights shining through and casting elaborate shapes on stone floors.
The central atrium is huge – tiered seating for what must be at least 350 people stretching from the stage to the ceiling through the entire space. Framed by cold stone arches, the show environment is vast and chilly – an assortment of wooden contraptions hidden under blood-and-dirt-stained sheets that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the nearby Edinburgh Dungeons.
It’s into this environment that we meet the Long Pigs – a motley trio of black-nosed clowns who have adopted these dusty corners as their home. It is, apparently, an abattoir. They shuffle around the stage in a way that feels like a non-sequitur – caked in dirt and looking haggard despite their stereotypical ‘clown’ behaviour.
Aiming to mix ‘horror and hilarity’, The Long Pigs is that most unlikely of things: a horror clown show. The plot, as I understand it (there is little-to-no dialogue) is that our three protagonists are failed former circus clowns, who have taken it upon themselves to viciously execute every other circus clown on the planet in their backwoods abattoir. However, on performing a body count (counting the ‘chopped off’ red noses of their victims) they notice that one is missing. Thus, the search is on to find their final victim.
It could just be my sense of humour but I really didn’t find myself laughing throughout this show. There’s a relatively lengthy bit about Jesus that’s very funny, but aside from that this is essentially the lowest-tier of slapstick comedy. I know people laugh at that, but I just find it really hard to get on the comedic wavelength of, say, a Laurel and Hardy skit. For most of the audience at the show I attended, too, there was rarely more than a peep of nervous laughter. Particularly at the start, before things get strange and violent, there’s a lot of fucking around with a sort of ‘chain-reaction’ type contraption that isn’t particularly spectacular but is very repetitive and kind of annoying.
Where The Long Pigs does excel, though, is in the horror department. As the show goes on, it becomes gradually darker and darker, ultimately pushing the boat right out-there with an alarmingly impressive and sinister set-piece that feels a little bit like a snuff film. There were some relatively conservative-looking parents who had brought their young-ish daughters sitting in the front row, and the concerned expressions on their faces were absolutely priceless.
There are also some interesting stabs at thematic exploration or emotional depth, especially for a mute clowning show. In a particularly impressive scene, our three protagonists waltz around the stage in colourful, inflated clown suits before withering slowly and crumbling inside them – it looks like these figures of joy and childhood innocence are literally imploding. Reborn from the scattered polyethene skin are these dishevelled, depressed, maniacal creatures.
Throughout The Long Pigs, there’s an all-too-literal threat hanging over our heads – the conclusion of the piece seems inevitable. But when it materialises, the reality of the situation was more than a little different than I had expected – it’s creepy, bleak, and really quite chilling. For a show that was billed as ‘horror meets hilarity’, I really wasn’t expecting such a heady dose of nihilism to catapult me headfirst into the August night.
Ultimately, I don’t feel that this sort of traditional clowning is particularly entertaining or very funny, and I don’t think that The Long Pigs really does anything to change that. However, if you’re a fan of horror or creepiness, this is a show that’s delightfully deranged and pulls no punches in going to some really dark places. A bit of streamlining, and I could see this becoming a cult hit.