Hypnotist Theatre’s production of The Pitchfork Disney opens on a dimly lit den of childish squalor. Sweet wrappers litter the floor and every surface as twins Presley (Jonathan Purkiss) and Haley (Zoe Bullock) sit in the place they have carved out for themselves away from the rest of the world, their rustling of wrappers filling the theatre with a sense of unease which pervades the entire performance.
Georgia Luscombe’s set is bloated with subtle references and allusions which we pick up as the play progresses; a sheet painted with the words “Left us Lost us” hangs behind the stage, referring to the mysterious absence of the twins’ beloved parents, whilst a line of chocolates on the top of the flickering TV set becomes a source of focus for, and representation of, Presley’s increasingly desperate need for the control which he lacks over his own life, dreams and desires.
The relationship between Bullock and Purkiss is explored dynamically in the first hour, with conversation ranging in content and tone from petty argument to gothic fantasy; the turbulence of their dialogue reflected in impressive physical performances from Bullock in particular, whose fantastically pastiche-gothic description of her last trip outside the house makes for the most captivating monologue in a play full of them as she charismatically acts out her fantasy across the set. Purkiss is convincingly conflicted as Presley; at once tender and protective towards his sister whilst frustrated and aggressive towards her manic behaviour.
The entry of Cosmo Disney (Nick Finerty) into the play, however, ramps up the tensions of the first hour and draws the themes that were once implicit out into the dialogue between him and Presley. Cosmo is at once pristine and grotesque; hating to be touched, with a clean white shirt, bow-tie and sequinned jacket, he exudes the confidence and control which Presley lacks. Finerty’s performance injects a new energy into the play, and his portrayal of Cosmo treads a line somewhere between captivating and repulsive that makes his character appropriately ambiguous and threatening right up until the play’s climax.
Finally, the arrival of Pitchfork (Keiran Ahern) consolidates the growing sense of threat and unease that the production creates, and Ahern’s performance, though all but silent, epitomises the contrast of childishness and grotesqueness with his costume identical to Cosmo’s save his face, which is hidden beneath a studded gimp mask. This theme of the grotesque is one that director Sam Ward focuses on in the production, with actors talking through mouths full of chocolate, sucking on children’s dummies, eating cockroaches and vomiting.
The set adds to this, appearing claustrophobic, hot and dirty and indeed the actors do well to linger on the uncomfortably unpleasant sections of the script, Purkiss in particular, whose portrayal of repressed homosexuality is as uncomfortable as it is convincing. However, at times, the rich script goes to waste in a production that becomes increasingly static as it progresses, and moments that could be a high point for these thematic concerns of repressed desire, the allure of the grotesque and dark fantasising, such as Presley’s fifteen minute account of his recurring nightmare, are acted out with almost no accompanying movement or significant variation in tone or volume.
As a result, the play loses pace in its latter stages, and thus the dynamic so successfully explored between Presley and Haley is never quite reached with Presley and Cosmo. Nonetheless, the production is slick, captivating and impressively disturbing, with a particularly outstanding performance from Purkiss and a rich, professional set.