The atmosphere in Philip Ridley's plays is so thick with surreal poetry and menace that it's a wonder the characters can move at all. And sure enough, siblings Hayley and Presley Stray, the odd couple at the heart of Ridley's 1991 drama, don't get out much: they prefer to curl up in their flat and dreaming druggy dreams of the apocalypse that might be lying in wait outside their taped-up door.
This is the play that's credited with kick-starting the provocative in-yer-face movement in the UK. Post-'I'm A Celebrity', unnaturally beautiful predator Cosmo Disney, who arrives in the siblings' living room and eats live cockroaches, doesn't seem so out-there as he did twenty years ago.
'The Pitchfork Disney' hails from that most remote of historical places, the day before yesterday. But Edward Dick's brooding revival revels in the weird richness of Ridley's script. And Chris New and Mariah Gale capture Presley and Hayley's plaintive vulnerability and their power to disturb: they are excellent as the two 'ancient children'; 28-year-old twins who live on chocolate bars, pills, distorted memories and fear.
Tension mounts as Presley's nightmares – specifically, the one about a serial killer called 'The Pitchfork Disney' – seem to enter the twins' refuge. They arrive in the form of Nathan Stewart-Jarrett's hypnotic but facile Cosmo Disney, and his sidekick the Pitchfork Cavalier (the strapping Steve Guadino, done up horribly like a big S&M baby, in bikers leathers and a gimp mask). But even the scare figures seem sick and uncertain: movement director Jane Gibson makes them move the air as if it were heavy with despair.
Ambiguous oddballs plunge into long fantastical monologues in Ridley's rich but viscous play, whose top register is horror-struck lyricism. It's exceptionally crafted but there is something profoundly unsatisfying about the way it shifts inconclusively, confounding your expectations instead of unpacking its mysteries or locating or defining its vision.
It is, however, perversely beautiful here: Bob Bailey's wrapper-littered square of a living room seems to float, like a squalid spaceship, above the front row of the Arcola's audience; an alien bubble only slenderly connected to the urban reality it distorts and reflects.
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