The Pitchfork Disney is a quite incredible play. Phillip Ridley’s first venture onto the stage and largely considered the premier piece of “in-yer-face” theatre, in the space of 2 hours the audience is wrenched into the fragmented, irresistibly nonsensical dream world of Presley and Haley; two emotionally estranged 28 year old twins living in a musty apartment. By all accounts this is a truly magnificent piece of contemporary theatre, and by all accounts Lauren Moakes and Holly Morgan’s Drama Barn production did it more than justice.
The play began for the audience the moment they stepped through the doors of the Barn and were offered a Freddo- “you’ll understand”, the nice man with the box of chocolate told us. Picking a clear path through the chocolate wrapper strewn floor and onto an uncomfortable chair in the traverse seating arrangement, slight stink of stale confectionery and damp in the air, he was right. After a little hesitation from behind the fourth-wall, the wrappers cascaded onto the floor below. A crackling whir reached crescendo, the lights dropped and The Pitchfork Disney commenced.
We are in Presley (Olly Brassell) and Haley’s (Nicole Rushworth) flat. A small space made even smaller by the ageing furniture, general detritus and Sam Hunt’s subtly oppressive use of lighting, there is no escape. At many moments the two twins veer dangerously close to the audience, tossing themselves across the room in the name of chocolate and throwing one another to the floor in a big, culturally suspect heap of limbs. Yet as close as the audience’s physical proximity is to these two deeply unsettled characters, there is a gentle undercurrent of something tender that keeps them on the right side of alienating. Rushworth, clad in a night-dress and colourful tights, is at once infantile and alluring; succumbing to the womb-like warmth of the medicine cabinet and twisting herself into unflattering positions with a toddler-like disregard; all whilst spitting out potently dark metaphor. “And this house is the only one standing, standing like a dark tower in the middle of a wasteland” she tells Presley, invoking his excitement and a quick fire stream of apocalyptic lust.
The pair chat warmly, accuse one another of desperately irrelevant sins, take a sleeping pill and turn to the window. Haley falls asleep. Cosmo Disney, first year Drama Barn loyal James Esler, enters. From the first instance of his presence, vegetable soup vomit falling from his mouth and onto the floor, Esler does a magnificent job of being firmly repugnant. Disney is a tall man, dressed to the nines in a sequinned, bobby dazzler of a jacket and sporting a real fuck you smile. His interaction with Presley is fraught and confusing, touching on the dirty aspects of adult life, thirst for money and, most importantly of all, dreams.
The brilliance of the playwright is made most evident here. By gilding the dialogue with impenetrably dense imagery and switching seamlessly between real life observation and recounts of the subconscious, the audience is constantly asked if this is real. Cosmo is a unbelievably larger than life character, fitting both the roles of personified internal doubt and snidey product of the dystopian world we suspect lies outside. Esler plays this side extremely well yet, a little disappointingly, refrains from colouring his character with more likeable traits. This did not so much detract from the performance but, in lieu of the mute, physically imposing Pitchfork (Sam Boullier) and the asleep Haley, lands Brassell with the task of seducing the audience; a feat he achieves quite superbly.
As a character Presley is irreducibly complex. He is at once caring brother, orphan, emotionally regressive 28 year old and snake killing, fish and chip eating child at heart. To play such a fragmented role whilst retaining the theatrical illusion is no mean feat; to do so whilst acting as the absolute origin of this potentially augmented reality is near impossible. Whilst an uncomfortable dose of homophobia and several dropped lines detracted from this endeavour, the overall effect of Brassell’s curiously likeable character, Rushworth’s schizophrenic angst, Esler’s loathsome Cosmo and Boullier’s mere presence was utterly immersive. It may have left the audience asking what just happened. It was most definitely uncomfortable. But it was also heartfelt, extremely well considered and finely acted.