Presley and Haley Stray are more than just siblings. More than twins, even. They are chaotically, hermetically, inextricably bound in an isolated world of their own creation; ten years ago their parents died in unexplained circumstances, and now they are a modern Hansel and Gretel of 28 years, agoraphobic and blissfully medicating each other to chemical sleep.
Theirs is a love that both nourishes and destroys, that shields them from the pain of their stark loss, whilst also serving to perpetuate it. They joyfully lose themselves in intoxicating stories of the outside world which they so rarely visit, each one darker and more nihilistic than the last. Most people wear their love for one another like an overcoat, allowing it to protect them from harsh elements: Presley and Haley’s love is bare, vulnerable, raw, and bleeding. Their stifling, chocolate-gorging bubble is burst with the arrival of the sequinned, serpentine pub showman Cosmo Disney and his enormous, masked, and seemingly mute sidekick Pitchfork Cavalier. Together they insistently taunt Presley, pushing him further in to his own mind than even he had previously dared go, all the while ominously circling the defenceless sleeping Haley.
All of the characters in Philip Ridley’s dystopian, brutal debut, The Pitchfork Disney, revel in the repulsive, and it takes a strong resolve not to flinch at some of the more ornate descriptions of suffering and torment. Haley, Presley and Cosmo have a shared understanding that torture is inherent in humanity, that once sinister impulses are indulged and acted upon they are compulsively replicated (Cosmo even manages to make a decent living out of it, swallowing live insects for euphoric paying voyeurs). In the world of The Pitchfork Disney, it is survival of the sickest; wounds are insistently probed, scabs are compulsively picked.
Director Eve Nicol ensures that this exquisite tension never drops until the final lamp dims; in one particularly stomach-flipping scene, Presley cradles the unconscious Haley’s head in his lap, tenderly stroking her hair, before starting to pull back her eyelids and touch her eyes. Strongly reminiscent of that scene from Un Chien Andalou, you recoil when you remember Haley’s earlier prescient quip – “you know how easily horrible things can happen”. It is a wincingly clever and subtle piece of direction that moves members of the audience to hide behind their programmes. The intimate atmosphere of the Tron’s Changing House is sumptuously and softly lit, and Nicol ramps up the tension by having the invaders prowl and pace around the periphery of the performance space, physically embodying the swirling confusion of Presley’s mind.
This is a remarkably assured premiere production for new Glasgow-based company Heroes Theatre. Alan MacKenzie gives a stand-out performance as Presley, his relationship with his sister fluctuating between hyper-protective and toe-curlingly sexualised. Lucy Goldie’s Haley is exposed and dependent, and her beautifully crafted monologues flow lyrically and easily. This fantastic production is unfailingly humanising through the immediacy and urgency of its delivery. You leave feeling exhausted by the beautiful anxiety, and overwhelmed by the intensity and authenticity of the world of the Strays. For a production that inhabits the darkest, bleakest recesses of human nature, it somehow makes you feel relentlessly, violently alive.