Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 4 February 2012

The Pitchfork Disney

Arcola Theatre ⋄ 25th January - 17th March 2012

Philip Ridley’s blazing debut.

Neil Dowden

Philip Ridley is now often credited with kick-starting in-yer-face theatre with his first play The Pitchfork Disney, premiered at the Bush in 1991. Raw, provocative and challenging in form as well as content, it hits you right between the eyes with a full-frontal assault on your innermost anxieties. Edward Dick’s visceral production at the Arcola keeps the pulses throbbing in this dark fairy tale of nightmarish imaginings.

The play focuses on the quasi-incestuous relationship between twenty-something twins Presley and Haley, with the fitting surname of Stray, who have lived alone together in the family home for ten years since their parents mysteriously either died or left them. Living on a diet of chocolate and sleeping pills (plus the ‘medicine’ in which Presley dips Haley’s dummy to sedate her when she has panic attacks), the pair bicker and tell stories, as they fantasise that they are the only survivors of a nuclear war. However, their hermetic existence is punctured when Presley lets in the attractive but disturbing Cosmo Disney and his menacingly masked henchman Pitchfork Cavalier.

As always with Ridley, storytelling here is a way of coming to terms with deeply held dreads and desires, as memories transmute into fantasies, so that what is real and what is imagined get mixed up in vicarious excitement. Black humour punctuates a tense atmosphere of latent sexual violence, sometimes expressed in monologues of poetic, image-laden brilliance, like a psychotic form of magical realism. Dick (who also directed a revival of Ridley’s second play The Fastest Clock in the Universe at the Hampstead Theatre in 2009) hits all the nerve endings, while Bob Bailey’s squalid, barred-door set design and Malcolm Rippeth’s dingy lighting set the mood well.

Chris New’s twitchily neurotic Presley is drawn to danger like a moth to a naked light bulb, confronting his subconscious fears with a gleeful shiver. He seems to be at once protector and prison-keeper of his drugged-up sister Haley, played by Mariah Gale with childlike obsessive intensity. Misfits star Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s charismatic Cosmo Disney, bare-chested beneath a glittering red jacket, is a live-cockroach-eating charlatan with the venom of a beautiful snake. And Steve Guadino gives the almost mute, leather-bondage-wearing Pitchfork the lumbering threat of Frankenstein’s creature.

Twenty-one years on, The Pitchfork Disney has come into its maturity, while still buzzing with plenty of youthful vigour. It will be fascinating to compare it to Ridley’s new play Shivered which opens at the Southwark Playhouse next month.


Neil Dowden

Neil's day job is working as a freelance editor for book publishers such as HarperCollins, Penguin, Faber and British Film Institute Publishing, but as a night person he prefers reviewing for Exeunt. He has also written features on the theatre and reviewed films, concerts, albums, opera, dance, exhibitions, books and restaurants for various newspapers and magazines, including The Stage and What's On in London, as well as contributing to a couple of books on 20th-century drama and writing a short tourist guide to London for Visit Britain. He insists he is not a playwright manqué but was born to be a critic and just likes sticking a knife into luvvies. In fact, as a boy he wanted to become a professional footballer, but claims there were no talent scouts where he then lived on the South Wales coast, and so has had to settle for playing Sunday league for a dodgy south London team. Apart from the arts and sport, his other main interest is travel, and he is never happier than when up a mountain, though Everest Base Camp is the highest he has been so far. He believes he has not yet reached his peak.

The Pitchfork Disney Show Info

Directed by Edward Dick

Written by Philip Ridley

Cast includes Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Chris New, Mariah Gale




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