The Year of the Pig is an epic, ruthless and haunting piece of musical-theatre fantasy, performed by students from the MA Music Theatre course at CSSD. In the last days of China’s Imperial dynasty, the impossible friendship between a princess and a pig becomes the pivot upon which life, love and revolution all turn. Zachary Dunbar’s book and score reference everything from Sondheim to Gilbert and Sullivan, but are best when they sound like nothing but themselves; their knowingly sophisticated verbal veneer poised atop a melodic underswell of romantic yearning.
In the cast I saw, the creatures of the Royal Menagerie thoroughly steal the show. Chloë Nicolson, a flighty, fidgety rabbit, gives a witty and rousing rendition of the anthemically optimistic Anywhere That You Go, sweeping Scott Jones’ fastidious, lovelorn, sex-starved rat and Aris Gerontakis’ stolid, rich-voiced ox along with her on an irresistible wave of hilarity. Anna Black and Jonathan Ray as queeny, lisping snake and camp rooster enjoy the innuendo of a Polari-spattered patter-song that made me grateful for many misspent hours listening to Round the Horne. As the show’s porcine lynch-pin, Pao-Chang Tsai displays a delicate instinct for restrained and rueful clowning. And Laura Harrison, as treacherous feline Charlotte, caterwauls with breathtaking passion in her big solo.
The cast don’t quite nail all the consonants required by the scatter-gun diction of the show’s pacier songs, and the drama may get slightly clogged in the trial scene which dominates most of the second act, but the massive ensemble brings astonishing emotional power to some memorable company numbers. The incorrigible up-tempo gusto of On A Holiday, with Victoria Atkin’s put-upon turtle emerging from her shell as a 1920s bathing beauty, gives way to the impassioned, candle-lit Funeral Rhapsody and the muted heartbreak of New World.
The Year of the Pig is an ambitious and uplifting piece of theatre, tackled by a cast showing genuine promise, many of whom I hope to see again on professional stages. But best of all would be the chance to see The Year of the Pig reach an audience beyond these students’ glowingly proud parents. It’s a bittersweet, fantastical, funny and soulful show, at once an affectionate homage to the musicals of the past, and an inspiring glimpse of what the musicals of the future, in an ideal world, might be.