The Pitchfork Disney by Philip Ridley. Directed by John Shooter with Justin Miller (Presley Stray), Nikki Duval (Haley Stray), Ayinde Blake (Cosmo Disney), Yehuda Fisher (Pitchfork Cavalier). Presented by Precisely Peter Productions at Double Double Land, 209, Augusta Ave (down the alley), Toronto. until May 22, 2016. www.brownpapertickets.com
You should see The Pitchfork Disney. It is a play by Philip Ridley now plying at Double Double Land. You have probably not heard of much about this but soldier on.
The Pitchfork is what is known as in-yer-face theatre and it premiered in London in 1991. It is staggeringly powerful. It may be described as the staging of a nightmare or life inside a psychosis.
Nikki Duval and Justin Miller in The Pitchfork Disney
Meet Haley Stray, a young, overweight, woman, clutching a blanket and clearly unhinged. Her brother Presley has a pale and pasty complexion with bloodshot eyes and looks like he is steps away from death. They live in a room that is at best a low-scale slum. Presley peers though a hole in the window to the outside world and sees nothing but darkness. The outside or whatever is left of it, is frightful and menacing
There is no narrative line to the siblings’ psychotic behaviour as they fight, argue, eat chocolates and create an atmosphere of inexplicable fear, confusion, disgust and insanity. They have nightmares, take pills and live in terror but we can never be sure if they are not dreaming up the whole thing. Presley gives a graphic and disgusting description of cooking and eating a snake. There are a number of gastronomic descriptions and calling them revolting and repulsive hardly begins to give you a taste of them.
Enter Cosmo Disney, a control freak, a psychopath, an ordinary lunatic or just a part of Presley’s and Haley’s mental aberrations. Near the end of the play Pitchfork Cavalier enters. There are chains hanging from his body and he is dressed in black and his face is covered by a mask. There are lengthy descriptions of his activities including his murder of children.
Avinde Blake and Justin Miller
Duval’s acting is almost all on a frenetic and hysterical level that shows incredible stamina on her part. It is like having a tenor sing in high C for an entire evening. Presley’s performance is more modulated but again it reaches some staggering heights.
Blake, speaking in more “rational” terms reaches stunning heights of expression. Director John Shooter modulates the performance so that there are quiet moments in the psychopathy which are interrupted by explosions of emotion that bring the audience back to the “reality” of the play.
The “down the alley” theatre holds about 50 people in a space the size of some large living room. You are in fact in the slum that the characters occupy. But there is a problem. The high in-your-face emotional intensity of the performance, even with its modulations, is more than most people can bear. In the end the play seems to lose steam or the audience loses its stamina to withstand such assaults on its senses. In other words, at two hours the play seemed too long.
Nightmares tend to be short and sharp and psychoses linger but are incomprehensible. Ridley wants us to visit both for longer than may be humanly bearable.