Paul Anderson, review of A Place With the Pigs by Athol Fugard (National), Tribune, 4 June 1988
The South African playvvright Athol Fugard directs the National Theatre’s production of his A Place With The Pigs with considerable verve. It is a tale, based on a true story, of a second world war Red Army deserter, Pavel Navrotsky (Jim Broadbent), who hides in his pigsty for 41 years after his desertion, fed by his wife Praskovya (Linda Basset).
Fugard concentrates on the dramatic moments of this extraordinary story: Pavel’s failure (despite initial intentions) to turn himself in during the 1954 ceremony to unveil the local memorial to the fallen of the Great Patriotic War (on which his name appears); his frenzied killing of a pig (some years later) because the pig has eaten a butterfly that has found its way into the sty; and his eventual decision, as an old man, to set the pigs free and go to the authorities.
At first sight, all this appears to be far removed from the explicit exploration of the South African nightmare for which Fugard is famed the world over even if the dramatic examination of the predicament of just two characters in the bleakest of circumstances echoes much of his previous work.
Immediately beneath the surface, though, there are parallels between Pavel’s state of exile in his own country and Fugard’s own relationship to South Africa; and Pavel’s isolation from the outside world and his increasingly brutal treatment of the pigs are metaphors for the pariah status of South Africa and the apartheid state’s growing viciousness towards the country’s black majority. It is no accident that Fugard subtitles the play A Personal Parable. But it is more than this too – a play that raises universal ethical and political questions about cowardice, war, patriotism and responsibility, without ever sacrificing dramatic power.
Tim Broadbent is on stage for the full 100 minutes of the National’s production, and he plays a difficult part with consumate skill, convincingly portraying Pavel’s fall and final (ambiguous) redemption, Linda Basset is also superb, mixing an earthy peasant piety with an unnerving sense of despairing resignation.
Douglas Heap’s set is excellent, and the sound – essential for the ever-present noise of the pigs – exemplary. See this play if you can.