Philip Ridley’s debut play, originally staged at the Bush in 1991 and now revived for the first time in London, is the stuff of legend. Shocking and shockingly misunderstood at the time of its original production, it is now widely seen as the play which kicked off the renaissance of British playwriting in the 1990s, inspiring other young writers such as Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill and Jez Butterworth.
Mariah Gale and Chris New in The Pitchfork Disney at the Arcola Theatre, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
This version, directed by Edward Dick - whose revival of Ridley’s The Fastest Clock in the Universe in 2009 was a big success - is set in a bare red-lit flat, designed by Bob Bailey, in the East End of London. Here, Presley and Haley Stray, a pair of 28 year old twins, live a secluded life after the traumatic loss of their parents some ten years before.
But their uncanny existence, which involves living off chocolate and making up stories about the end of the world, is put into sharp question when Presley invites a teenager, Cosmo Disney, who makes a living by eating live insects in a pub, into their abode. Worst of all, he brings his business partner, the evil-looking Pitchfork Cavalier.
In 1991, Ridley’s text tore up all our ideas about writing plays that were realistic, journalistic or overtly political. Instead, it stressed the imagination, using monologues and narrative games to tell its metaphorically rich story, which however lurid remains psychologically well grounded. Ridley’s poetic writing is highly charged and gleams with a darkling wonder.
This thrilling and disturbing production by Edward Dick brilliantly balances emotional realism with the soaring fantasy of the text, and has a superb cast headed by Chris New as the man-child Presley and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett as the streetwise Cosmo. Mariah Gale excels as the petulant and vulnerable Haley while Steve Guadino’s Pitchfork is impressively sinister. A marvellous evening.