Brighton Year-Round 2023
It’s salutary to be reminded of Philip Ridley’s 1991 premiere Pitchfork Disney written in his 27th year, directed by Frank Leon of Poisoned Chalice2023 Productions at the Lantern Theatre.
In so many ways Ela Chapman is flinch-perfect.
James Macauley’s excellent at inhabiting fragile neuro-typicality but can also stare with a far-off gleam into his difference with the world.
Scott Roberts is consummate. Everything this actor does is at the least tinged with mastery. Here in this slightly flawed play he – indeed Macauley – make you almost forget the latter act’s flail for closure.
Unique – and compelling – with high-calibre acting throughout.
Directed by Frank Leon, Set Design and Costume Designer Poisoned Chalice2023, Lighting. Production Stage and Tech Designer Erin Burbridge
Till November 26th
Philip Ridley’s been garnering raves for his 2021 solo show Poltergeist which last appeared at the Arcola in 2022. It’s salutary to be reminded of his 1991 premiere Pitchfork Disney written in his 27th year, directed by Frank Leon of Poisoned Chalice2023 Productions at the Lantern Theatre.
There’s a couple of dramatists known for writing spectral works tinged with H P Lovecraft. Alistair McDowall (Pomona, X The Glow, all of it) has shone in Vicky Featherstone’s tenure at the Royal Court.
23 years older, Ridley’s quirkier, more horror-laden, but like McDowall earthed in the uncanniness of home. Ridley’s also known for creating excerptable monologues and one-person shows. There’s so many student reels up there you could patch a performance from different voices: pure Ridley in fact.
Hailed as a masterpiece Pitchfork Disney starts off very well indeed, though its uneven act-division – 30 minutes and an hour – betray a structural uncertainty in the what-do-we-do—nowness of Act 2.
That’s nothing to the unevenness of the parts, where 28-year-old twin siblings Presley Stray (James Macauley) and Haley Stray (Ela Chapman) enjoy a distrait co-dependency till Presley lets the odd one in at the end of the brief Act One.
At which point Haley’s lucked out on druggy sleep and virtually never wakes; whilst newcomer Cosmo Disney (Scott Roberts) vies with Presley for control of monologues and Pinteresque conversation. His ‘colleague’ Pitchfork Cavalier (Big Dave) arrives much later and never utters a word.
Macauley and Chapman are nearly ideal as the parent-abandoned children picking their way through existence. Haley’s agoraphobic, has terrible nightmares and has to be appeased with medication through a dummy, or chocolate. Presley shops for favourite chocolate (Haley’s is orange) which takes on monumental importance for Haley, distressed and frightened.
Chapman’s often at shriek-pitch too, and she might have gradated this a little more. Nevertheless her fright, her hollow-eyed terror is so viscerally real you want to call the services and complain about stage exploitation of vulnerable adults. In so many ways Chapman is flinch-perfect in this part.
Presley’s neuro-divergence also takes on a childish hue, though streaked through with occasional childlike cruelty. His monologue on what he did with a grass-snake pet his parents hated is up on YouTube if you can stomach it. It prefigures what happens at the end of Act One and afterwards.
Macauley’s excellent at inhabiting fragile neuro-typicality but can also stare with a far-off gleam into his difference with the world.
“Ancient children” as they’re later called, the twins play ritual games of accusation – Haley accuses Presley of only buying one kind of chocolate, then only one of what she wants; you see twin-rivalry and co-dependence stretched to both touching and frightening limits. They subsist in arrested development, see virtually no-one.
Their parents long vanished when they were 18, so are instantly “dead”. Probably their parents abandoned them and somehow they’re left a competence (never explained) and a house.
Set and props by Poisoned Chalice2023 are elegantly simple; with atmospheric spotlighting, production, stage and tech design all by Erin Burbridge.
You’re handed a small vial marked poison (Alice’s ‘drink me’ another trope), told to look up details on Instagram! As for carbon footprints, crafting lots of little bottles is infinitely heavier, if cuter, and people won’t bother to look up names: actors are too disposable.
Presley puts Haley to sleep, and thus able to invite a stranger he sees doubling up by a lamppost; Haley’s terrified of strangers.
Enter Cosmo Disney (Scott Roberts), vomiting towards the front row, ordering Presley to clear up (he meekly does). Cosmo a Pinteresque character of menace and insinuation dominates Presley though it’s not all one way and Presley too can menace. Stripping off a coat (which provides the minor coup at the end) Cosmo reveals a cherry-red tinsel jacket, one worn by magicians which Cosmo denies he is. What he manages though chimes with the childish dystopia Presley inhabits. Cosmo eats insects and demonstrates, encouraging Presley to bond with him.
Things darken further, especially when Cosmo takes an interest in Haley, whom he prefers passive and sleeping. Roberts throughout floats Cosmo’s bile: his belief in public cruelty, literally a theatre of sadism with public executions, where the public’s desire to see him eat insects informs his worldview: that people want spectacle, the putting to death of those they hate, like “homosexuals who should be gassed” and other fantasias on life’s minorities.
Cosmo’s subordination of Presley relies on his ability to express a hated of some group, primarily gay people, then make Presley deny he’s gay. This menacing wrong-footing reeks of Pinter slashed with Beckett. Beckett inheres in the twins’ relationship. Roberts’ Cosmo is Pinteresque with weirder output.
Roberts is consummate. Everything this actor does is at the least tinged with mastery. Here in this slightly flawed play he – indeed Macauley – make you almost forget the latter act’s flail for closure.
Ridley stitches monologues into the first act, but Presley’s allowed another; indeed Ridley’s mesmeric writing is at its strongest here.
Pitchfork Cavalier with zip-mouth mask, garb and towering presence (and the same dazzling cherry jacket as Roberts) resembles Giraffe Man from Planet Zog on a low-budget 1980s Dr Who. Whilst Big Dave leers like Christopher Lloyd. We miss what he might have brought, but it’s clear he’s a dumb waiter incarnate, though this doesn’t end in what you fear. It’s worse when Presley and Big Dave go off to find the car.
What Roberts does with a chocolate finger, a mouth and a response is so powerfully repellent you might end the play there. Ridley though wants closure; it’s understandable but sometimes a sheering-off is even more effective. We can infer the rest. Unique – and compelling – with high-calibre acting throughout.