Review: Pig Stew, People’s Theatre

A character-driven dark comedy, Pig Stew draws the audience in with universal themes and keeps them interested with as many twists as its namesake’s tail.

Photograph: Paula Smart

The play tells the story of three estranged sisters who are unwillingly brought back together in a fight over the fate of their family farm. The conflict is complicated by sleazy financial advisers, unsolicited emails, illegitimate children, and endangered orangutans. And just a touch of cannibalism. Playwright Fiona Veitch Smith was inspired by the story of the Three Little Pigs, noting in the programme “it was only when all three pigs joined together that their common enemy was defeated.”

With simple sets and basic costumes, the play is carried by the ability of its four talented actors to bring the witty script to life. Jo Kelly plays Louise, the awkward, deaf oldest child resentful of her additional family responsibilities. Pretty stay-at-home wife and middle sister Denise’s brush with insanity is convincingly portrayed by Melanie Dagg. Amy Nicol rounds out the family drama as Juliet, a smart, gay, borderline-alcoholic, vegetarian conservationist living abroad. Stuart Laidler sets them all against each other as Matthew, a sly conman who falls in love with one of his victims. The People’s Theatre run is directed by Sarah McLane.

The play’s recent designation as the People’s Play Award Winner is a significant professional milestone for Smith, who was shortlisted for the same award in 2007 for another piece, The Idols of Sarajevo. In winning the award Smith joins prestigious company; previous winners include Peter Straughan who penned the screenplay for Men Who Stare at Goats, and Carina Rodney, creator of Pub Quiz.

On a personal level, bringing Pig Stew to the People’s Theatre, on the edge of Jesmond Dene, takes Smith’s own family story full-circle. She recently learned that her ancestors Colin and Norman Veitch – along with famous playwright George Bernard Shaw – helped to found the People’s Theatre and the amateur drama group that runs it nearly 100 years ago. Of this connection Smith comments: “I’ve always been artistically inclined and wondered where it came from… there must be something of Colin and Norman in my blood.” In the run-up to the Theatre’s centenary year, she’s proud to once again have a Veitch on the billboard.

Pig Stew continues at the People’s Theatre tonight and Saturday evening from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are £10 (£8 concession). For more information visit the People’s Theatre website.

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