King of Pigs describes itself as a “disturbing, thrilling and fascinating” play that boldly explores the issue of violence against women. This description was enough to make me curious but also concerned about this play, writes Catherine Cresswell.
In what universe can violence against women be considered thrilling? Nevertheless, I went to university with the writer, Steve Rodgers, and decided to see for myself whether the play would add to understanding or reinforce the stereotypes that can make it so hard for women to find support and safety. As it turned out, I left the theatre with many questions, but few answers.
Sadly, shockingly, in the 12 months to February 2021, one in three women experienced emotionally abusive, harassing or controlling behaviours, one in 10 experienced physical violence, and one in 12 experienced sexual violence from their partner (ANROWS, 2022).
These women could be our friends, our colleagues, our mothers, ourselves. A theatre audience almost certainly includes women who are directly affected. So there must be an acknowledgement of these women up-front, before the play begins, and advice on how to access supports. I have seen staff of Good Samaritan Inn do this with extraordinary warmth and empathy, and I think this should be standard for any presentation touching on these issues.
The play rapidly intercuts the stories of three different women who become snared in (physically) violent relationships that ultimately land in the criminal justice system. One woman plays all of the female characters while the four male characters are each played by different men.
This seemed a surprising choice – how could one (young, white, able-bodied) actor represent the diversity of women’s experiences of intimate partner violence? It’s also a terribly emotionally wrenching task for the performer and replicates the unequal burden placed on women across so many settings. I didn’t find a satisfactory answer to this choice in the play itself or the program notes.
Why did the writer choose these three particular stories, all depicting (in graphic detail) brutal escalations of physical violence, to represent the spectrum of violence perpetrated by men against women? Data from Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) shows that the most common forms of intimate partner violence (IPV) are non-physical.
These behaviours fall into five broad categories: financial abuse, verbally abusive and threatening behaviours, socially restrictive behaviours, stalking and monitoring, and reproductive coercion. Some jurisdictions (including Tasmania) have recently made coercive control, a pattern of non-physical abuse, a crime. If the focus keeps returning to physical violence, we risk losing some of the progress in understanding that has been made.
I wonder too why the author chose to focus entirely on stories involving the criminal justice system? These cases are in the minority. The majority of women will not report their experiences of IPV. (Of women who have experienced violence by a current partner since the age of 15, 82 per cent had never contacted the police.) The majority of men will never be held to account for their actions.
And it’s a serious oversight that in choosing three different stories, the writer did not provide space for the stories of Indigenous women. We know that Indigenous women are approximately 35 times more likely to experience IPV than non-Indigenous women. Yet their stories are often ignored and the violence and abuses against them and their families are rarely front-page news.
Compare the play’s focus with Jess Hill’s recent documentary series See What you Made me Do (SBS On Demand), which gave a diverse range of women the chance to tell their stories, in their own words. Also in the past six months, the drama series Maid (Netflix) and Cry Wolf (SBS On Demand), both penned and led by female creatives, have explored complex eco-systems of abuse in a powerfully dramatic way while showing little physical violence. These three series have the potential to generate the conversations, empathy and understanding that can help drive change.
In the end, I was left puzzling over why the author chose to write this play. If it is for men, as the program notes suggest, then surely the play needs more women’s voices, and the voices of the children who are also drawn into a dynamic of power and control.
Although no doubt well-intentioned, in 2022 we expect more – stories that delve deeper, ask more questions, that promote women’s voices, that are grounded in research, and acknowledge the women and kids who are living through this in real time. That’s the minimum.
King of Pigs is currently touring Australia and has been recommended for Victorian schools. For performance dates and venues, click here.
Where to get help
1800 RESPECT – 1800 737 732, the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence information and support line, 24 hours
If you need translation or interpreting services phone the Translating and Interpreting Service National on 13 14 50 and ask them to contact 1800 RESPECT
TTY/Voice Calls – phone 133 677
Speak and Listen – phone 1300 555 727
Internet relay users – visit the National Relay Service website
Lifeline – 13 11 14, crisis support and suicide prevention, 24 hours