Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney in its revival at Arcola Theatre leaves you with more questions than it provides answers. Ridley’s text is wondrously descriptive, evoking a post-apocalyptic world where each character resorts to their primitive nature. Locked in a house and abandoned by their parents, Presley (Chris New) and Haley Stray (Mariah Gale) devour chocolate, and tell stories to each other about a nuclear-bombed world outside their front door. Their troubled imaginations provoke hysteria in Haley, leaving Presley to be the carer of the two. It is only when Cosmo Disney (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) is invited into their home that the outside world forces its way into their idyllic and twisted lifestyle.
Ridley’s ability to capture his audience through his imaginative writing, which links religious figures with grotesque portrayals of society and consumerism, against these two dysfunctional lost-in-their-own-minds young adults, make The Pitchfork Disney a real gem. Once considered to be part of the In-Yer-Face ‘movement’ of writing, Ridley’s text forces images onto the stage that will at times make you squirm with discomfort and want to shut your ears off from vulgar dialogue. This discomfort is all part of the joy that The Pitchfork Disney can achieve, acting as a play to make its audience confront its dark images, like a mirror being held up for us to truly see our wrongdoings reflected.
However, in Edward Dick’s revival, The Pitchfork Disney acts more as a message only half delivered, where a certain misfortune of Anne Cooper’s casting places the pivotal role of Cosmo Disney with the slightly awkward Stewart-Jarrett. You could see this as a fine performance in which Cosmo’s “big boy attitude of perfection” is easily shot down, but Stewart-Jarrett’s performance seems a weak point in the otherwise thrilling revival.
New and Gale as the brother and sister duo are phenomenal at presenting two characters clearly too caught up in their own imaginations to understand the dysfunction that has set in around them. New’s performance, especially when delivering Ridley’s poetic monologues, sucks the audience from their seats and into the imagined world he portrays. Never do we question his character, and never do we lose sight of the metaphors in which he speaks.
Dick’s overall direction is strong at working Ridley’s text within the confides of a somewhat-derelict house, with a particular knack of giving the production a continued driving force so never does it linger too long. The Pitchfork Disney doesn’t shock as perhaps it once did, but it certainly does entertain. The complexities of the characters’ situations and imagined worlds might have you wondering how the production stands when so little is developed from the characters – they are ultimately and inevitably stuck within Ridley’s world. Yet this is what makes Ridley’s play stand the test of time. It still manages to capture our imaginations and allows us to soar on the sometimes disgusting, sometimes heartening, dialogue.
Whilst Stewart-Jarrett’s performance is lacking (there was a particular moment when you couldn’t help but see the mechanics of an actor acting) The Pitchfork Disney is a real, tongue-twisting and genital-groping joy of a production. The Arcola Theatre has clearly outdone itself and reminded us that though it might appear a bit make-shift, the focus of work is bang on the mark. The Pitchfork Disney might leave you a bit puzzled and questioning what you’ve just seen, but isn’t that better than some of the non-thinking dead theatre played out across London at the moment? At least this show has life – even if it does come in the form of cockroaches.
The Pitchfork Disney is playing at the Arcola Theatre until 17 March. For more information and tickets, see the Arcola Theatre website.