Thursday, 2 February 2017

Review The Pitchfork Disney (Preview)

The Pitchfork Disney
by Philip Ridley

The Way We Live Now

Start identifying the characters in Philip Ridley's 1991 shocker The Pitchfork Disney, and it shows how life in the 21st century has caught up with the fractured world of  brother and sister Presley and Haley.

It's a pre-internet play written, or maybe a better word is composed, when the video cassette, not yet digital, camcorder, and video game had come to dominate. 

Yet director Jamie Lloyd's intimate, site-specific production still has the ferocity and grim tenderness to take an audience by the scruff of the neck and finger wag us about grotesque spectacle with violent glee. In the age of YouTube and mobile phone footage it  lasts the course with its moving snapshots.

Parentless Presley and Haley Stray (George Blagden and Hayley Squires) live, apparently, cocooned from the world in a East End grubby family home, dark haired and white skinned like human vampires hiding from the outside.

At 28 years old, they wallow in an infantile existence, craving "chocolate" (hmm, this is probably slang) and "medicine",  bickering and trading stories over who should go out to do the shopping.

These enfants terribles compete in creating - or is it pitching? - stories of extremity and sadism of which imagining themselves sole survivors of a nuclear holocaust is a mild example. Scaring herself with her own stories, Haley is finally tucked up by Presley sucking on a dummy soused with a chemical cosh.

Oh, did we mention that this is a very black comedy - once the audience realised that they were allowed to laugh? ;)  

Presley ventures out, bringing in ethereal blond teenager, Tom Rhys Harries as  Cosmo Disney (the names surely have a significance), a macho-camp pub entertainer clad in sparkling red sequinned jacket with a grotesque variety act and a loadsamoney mentality.

He at first expertly manipulates Presley's emotions. Before he finds his own understanding stretched and moved by Presley but instead of tears leading to empathy brings in a disruptive incarnation of Presley's childkiller fantasies - the brutal, grunting "foreigner",  Pitchfork Cavalier (Seun Shote), part wrestler, part comic strip creation, swathed in black plastic from head to foot.      

Soutra Gilmour's set, arfully-lit by Richard Howell in a traverse immersive space, is spread with faded patterned carpet, keeping the audience sparsely scattered on seating at various heights.

In the basement of Shoreditch Town Hall, it's a visceral church nave-shaped design  with an old cooker, a fridge and a misted window located pertinently.

A variety of yellow lanterns with one red one at what could be the altar end light the twilight zone, alongside table electric lamps inhabiting the floors work together to give a chiaruscuro effect.

The furnishings could be left overs  of the Porters' flat in Look Back In Anger. And the church can change to a street. Or a rock concert catwalk or airplane runway or even an elongated wrestling ring or comic strip.

For all the emphasis on Ridley's art school roots, the obvious hooks in film and music and his pioneering break with the past with "In Yer Face" drama ,  this felt to us like a very literary play.

A reptile piece which may be sloughing its skin but still looks back at visual tropes and literature of times past. Even Haley at what could be the altar end, dummy in mouth, is a peverse echo of the baby Jesus without a Madonna.   

The writing betrays its background in art installation monologues. But this is also part of the play's energy when Presley and Haley as opposed to 18 year old Cosmo and Pitchfork clash into each other when 10 years presents a weird generation gap. 

To be honest it did feel a little long at an hour and a half straight through  - but that was because TLT had her own visceral problems. She had opted for a sharp edged block to sit on which unless you are heavily padded she would advise avoiding!

Nevertheless Lloyd paces the production precisely and extracts distinctive performances with staging which manages to keep Squires as Haley in our eyeline even when  almost comatose for long stretches of time on the lengthwise stage.

This play has now become a period piece, just as much as an Joe Orton play or a David Bowie or Mick Jagger movie.

But this element is also its strength for it reflects back on the start of a fast moving yet nostalgic world which has now become strangely familiar  to us. We give an amber/green light and punters may find it worth their while to examine the accompanying Rebels & Rubble exhibition of Ridley's photographs at the East End venue.

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