Hoof and Horn’s production of Philip Ridley’s seminal play, The Pitchfork Disney embarks upon a drug and chocolate fuelled trip “on the ghost train” into the deepest, darkest and most disturbing realms of human imagination and fear. There are many deeply twisted fairy-tale elements to this surreal, intense and shockingly grotesque story of two claustrophobic 28-year-old Hansel and Gretel-like twins who are trapped in both the physical filthy house where they were abandoned at the age of 18 and their own mental prisons of childlike confused terror. When the deeply sexually repressed Presley (Alex Fleming-Brown) invites Cosmo Disney (Alasdair Linn), a perfect and manipulative stranger “with blond hair and a menacing angelic beauty” and psychotic tendencies into their flat – the twins’ contorted conception of reality and morality is blown apart to become a nightmare.
From the moment you step into this play the direct ‘in-yer-face’ nature of the performance is abundantly clear- the fourth wall is well and truly broken, which is ironic considering that the dysfunctional twins Hayley (Lou Lou Curry) and Presley Stray blockade themselves from the real world; like strays, they are truly lost. Cyrus Larcome-Moore’s Pitchfork Cavalier successfully sets the tone of the play, prowling around the theatre menacingly mixing malevolent laughter with mock-innocent childlike interaction. Lingering at the back of the stage with periodic musical interludes, Pitch is an ever-present symbol of darker evil whose true intent is hidden by a threatening black mask with his diabolical energy penetrating other characters’ psyche.
Alex Fleming-Brown and Lou Lou Curry artfully capture Presley and Haley’s irrational and incessant mood-swings shifting from vulnerable child to wily manipulator. In the early stages of the play Curry’s direct and powerful emotion reflected the true childlike fear and instability of Haley’s mind. Although Ridley’s writing stunts Haley’s character growth by limiting her to an unconscious doll which the male characters play with, this is itself a reflection of how women are perceived in society. Fleming-Brown’s portrayal of Presley was impressive especially his many powerfully delivered monologues which blurred the lines of reality and fiction, dream and nightmare. I was equally struck by his fastidious attention to tiny character tics. Cosmo is a sinister, sexual, serpentine and oddly-charismatic insect-eating showman shrewdly and terrifyingly played by Alastair Linn: he turns their home into his performance area. When he and Haley are explicitly homophobic in their interrogations of Presley’s sexuality, Fleming-Brown plays furtively with his t-shirt and his momentary glances betray his true desires which he too is running away from.
Equally noteworthy are the physical manifestations of the themes and preoccupations of the characters on stage through symbols and scenery, such as the large rug with motifs of the play scrawled across it, resembling a primary school child’s drawing, reflecting Presley and Haley’s key obsessions and childlike mentality. Chocolate wrappers litter the stage and are compulsively consumed in conjunction with “Mummy and Daddy’s medicine” – an addict’s mania – leading to Presley’s nickname, “Mr Chocolate”. Like Tracy Emin’s ‘My Bed’ Felix Morrison’s carefully crafted but subtly understated set-design mirrors the inner psychological chaos and transforms the twins’ existence into a physical reality.
Given The Pitchfork Disney’s reputation for shocking audiences and its direct treatment of homophobia, racism, sexual assault, violence and extreme erotic desire, Bertie Harrison-Broninski astutely avoids directorial temptation to portray these sensitive issues in a hyper-graphic way. Be left in no doubt, this production definitely is bold – it disturbs, shocks and takes us on an emotional journey. However, Harrison-Broninski also allows for subtler actions, including the twins’ uncomfortably intimate touches over chocolate-stained white pyjamas, which are just over the line of typical familial boundaries, to provoke questions about love, family and wider sexuality.
Step on “the ghost train” and see this sensational, exhilarating and swift-paced play which is impossible to ignore.