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> > > Julie McNamara: Pig Tales

Tanya Raabe reviews a play about a female child raised as a boy

Poster for Pig Tales

Photo of Julie McNamara as Pig by Michele Martinoli

I was expecting a fantastic performance from Julie McNamara in Pig Tales at Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton - part of her play's whistle-stop tour - and she did not disappoint. Pig Tales is an awesome honest portrayal of a real-life experience - a great piece of disability art that uses disability iconography, archetype, gender and religion at its best.

Julie’s solo performance throughout the play was inspiring. As she told Pig's story she changed seamlessly from character to character. Her attention to detail, especially with the costumes, was perfectly matched with the characters themselves. I loved Mother Tabard's apron and Nurse's shiny patent brogues. Great legs, Julie!

The stage was set in the opening scene as we meet Pig getting dressed in a man's suit. At this point my eyes scanned the rest of the set. At first glance it looked fairly minimal: Pig's dressing mirror; a Catholic altar with multi-media projections; a set dining table and chairs; a hospital curtain with various pieces of clothing hanging over it; a butcher's table with hanging pieces of meat and an assortment of clothing.

I liked the way Julie remained on stage throughout the play, changing into different characters before my eyes, physically and emotionally drawing me into Pig's world. There were occasions where I connected but then the characters were gone. I would have liked to know more about the individual personalities and their motivations. My personal favourites were Mother and Nurse. I could relate to them both, recognising them as part of my disability experience.

I loved the use of film and still imagery in the play. It was seductive and an integral part of Pig's story - leading us into an almost dream-like world. At times it was difficult to see these images, however. Some - especially when Pig was clubbing, just before being incarcerated within the mental heath system - were extremely powerful. Unfortunately due to the small size of the screen, their impact was somewhat lost.

I thought the screen should have been a total backdrop and take centre-stage with Julie's monologue’s performed alongside. Eerie shots of Julie as Mary, Mother of God were iconic and drew me into the world of the Catholic church. As we moved into Pig's mother's world, we saw images of Doris Day and Cary Grant creating that 1950s lifestyle housewives dreamed about. I even joined in singing with Doris Day at one point - I love a good musical! This was perfectly juxtaposed against images of physical and mental torture from the film What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, which portrays archetypes of disability.