Review: The Pitchfork Disney, Arcola ****

Phillip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney, which premiered at the Bush Theatre in 1991, is as haunting and degenerative a world today as it was for audiences two decades ago. Set in a squalid flat, a pair of agoraphobic 28-year-old twins, Haley and Presley, spend their time taunting one other with tales of apocalyptic nightmares, eating copious amounts of chocolate, popping sleeping pills and ‘mummy’s special medicine’, and writhing around in mental pain and horror. The dazzlingly strange visitors that find their way into the flat, Cosmo and Pitchfork, make a living out of the stuff of nightmares, of terror and repulsion, entertaining the world at large by crunching on cockroaches and parading Pitchfork’s masked face as ‘the ugliest face in the universe’.

Mariah Gale as Hayley and Chris New as Presley shine in their roles with an unwavering energy

It’s a disturbing picture, no less because it’s never clear what exactly happened to Hayley and Presley to reduce them to such infantile circumstances. With their parents dead – or missing – for 10 years, this play evokes a variety of theories, and paints the world outside as one of barren darkness, fortifying their resolution that true safety lies within the four fragile walls of their flat.

The Arcola’s production of The Pitchfork Disney is near perfect – it combines the nauseating destituteness of Hayley and Presley’s situation with just the right amount of humour and pathos, making these two creatures seem more real, more human, and more feeling than the strangers from the outside world. Mariah Gale as Hayley and Chris New as Presley shine in their roles with an unwavering energy that is almost miraculous for a 100-minute long show with no interval. The set is also spot-on, with a filthy, thick, 1980s beige carpet providing the base for the raised thrust staging, upon which stand boxes of chocolate bars, a rusty sink, and a quadruple-locked door covered in masking tape. The lighting design by Malcolm Rippeth adds to the atmosphere of nostalgia, with golden and reddish hues contrasting with the dimness of darker moments.

Credit must be given to Edward Dick for his direction; each whirl of energy is meticulously precise, which in the main is a positive thing, although on occasions the acting or particular gestures felt somewhat contrived. However, given that this show will enjoy a 7-week run in the space, this issue will undoubtedly be ironed out as the actors settle into their roles. Which is ironic, perhaps, given the truly unsettling nature of The Pitchfork Disney for the unwitting audience.

**** (4 stars)
Runs until 17th March
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