Writer: Philip Ridley
Director : Edward Dick
Reviewer : Jonathan Grant
The Public Reviews Rating:
The Pitchfork Disney is widely recognized as the first piece of “in yer face” theatre. That the play can still shock, some 21 years after it burst on to the London stage and during which time reality has caught up with and in some cases even overtaken the graphic imagery of Ridley’s 1980s imagination is yet further credit to the craft of its composition.
In a bleak east London home, two twins, Presley and Hayley Stray in their late twenties, eke out a tawdry isolated existence, drugged on medications and surviving on chocolate. Their parents disappeared from their lives some ten years previously, and in their quasi-orphaned and rudderless state, their lives have slumped into a vacuous routine that is as callow and as unhealthy as the complexion of their skin.
Their sole excitement is derived from the sharing of outlandish fantasies or traumatic recollections, a recurring theme being that they are sole survivors in a post-apocalyptic city, thus providing them with a deluded justification for their self-imposed isolation from the outside world.
This fragile existence is rocked by the arrival of Cosmo Disney, vomiting as he enters their home. Disney is a showman who has learnt that people want to be shocked . He states that there are “No miracles: just freak accidents and freaks” and we subsequently learn that his performance routine involves eating live animals before a paying audience. Nathan Stewart-Jarrett in this role is brilliantly menacing. His sexual interest in the stupefied Hayley is immediate and the subsequent elegant and aggressive worldliness with which he deceptively wins Presley’s naïve trust before going on to gratify himself with the drugged girl is disturbing.
Towards the end of the show Disney introduces an accomplice, Pitchfork Cavalier, a menacing hulk, gimp-masked and latex clad from head to toe. Whilst Cavalier’s character is not explored in depth, the names of the two intruders are critical. In an astounding monologue Chris New as Presley has told of a recurring nightmare, in which people are slaughtered by a disfigured man known as The Pitchfork Disney. This begs the question, are Cosmo and Pitchfork real? Or are they themselves, simply false creations of the fevered troubled minds of these two damaged siblings? Ridley leaves that question hanging.
It is a reflection of our times that over the last 21 years aspects of the writer’s allegorical prescience have come to pass. Celebrities frequently eat live insects on “I’m a Celebrity” as light entertainment, whilst the play’s suggestion of the twin’s abusive parents having drugged them routinely, chillingly echoes the recent criminality of Sharon Matthews.
The Pitchfork Disney is not for the faint hearted. The descriptions of human slaughter and animal mutilation are visceral. And proving that sound can sometimes be as, or even more, horrific than vision, the crunching of cockroaches being chewed on stage and the snapping in half of a finger bone, had a seasoned audience gasping.
Whilst the subject of the play is challenging, the performances are outstanding. New takes Presley on a powerful arc , from being frightened of “foreigners”, to manifesting profoundly violent anger. He is ably complemented by Mariah Gale as Hayley. Edward Dick effectively tackles the play’s lengthy monologues, cleverly coaxing as much physical movement as well as vocal nuance, into their delivery. And Danielle Tarento has again produced a show with outstanding production values all round. If you can stomach it, see it.