The Pitchfork Disney - Meraki Arts Bar (NSW)
Presented by Virginia Plain Theatre Company. Written by Philip Ridley.
Reviewed by Kat Pech
Meraki Arts Bar, Darlinghurst
22nd July to 5th August, 2023
-Intense, disturbing, provocative: The Pitchfork Disney is not for the faint hearted.-
The Pitchfork Disney, produced by Virginia Plain Theatre, performed at the Meraki Arts Bar in off-beat Darlinghurst, is billed as a “chocolate-coated post-apocalyptic fairy tale”. There was plenty of chocolate (fruit and nut, especially), but the fairy-tale vibes were questionable and the post-apocalyptic ones…well, it’s not what you think.
The show is deeply disturbing and unpalatable, literally so in some moments (I wasn’t the only one gagging), making it difficult to review. However, as Cosmo Disney (Harry Winsome) says “We all need our daily dose of disgust”; this delivered.
Philip Ridley’s 1991 play is both complex and lacking. It ends up feeling pointless - but perhaps that is the point? What I love about “in-yer-face-theatre” is that its brutality and disturbing content shocks you into new ways of thinking. Ridley’s play lacked this.
Images by Clare Hawley
Hayley and Presley’s background trauma isn’t given enough depth - the hints given are barely enough to tantalise, let alone create meaning.
In terms of messaging for a 2023 audience, there are far better choices. The only female character, Hayley, excellently portrayed by Jane Angharad, spends 90% of the play in a drugged sleep with a dummy in her mouth, experiencing two assaults in this state. Her brother, Presley, gets agency and growth, but despite her early promise of being a disturbing character with a talent for child-like manipulation, Hayley never progresses past infantilisation. Moreover, her lack of agency is never challenged, turning what could be a commentary on the treatment of women into what felt like misogynistic writing. The character of Pitchfork Cavalier felt entirely unnecessary on stage, with more tension being built before he physically appeared, though his “boogieing” with Hayley was a horrifying, shocking moment. Treating a mentally and physically disabled character as the play’s “boogey-man” also didn’t sit well. However, my issues with the play didn’t detract from the production quality.
James Smithers as Presley was a standout, beautifully portraying a character that is both traumatised, naive child and damaged, desiring adult. His intensity and physicality were consistently excellent, whether he was curled in a chair vibrating with childish excitement or delivering a long, nightmarish monologue. His low-class English accent faltered at times, particularly in the monologue. However, despite it being an English play, there are no references to locality (and certain set elements, such as package branding, made it feel Australian anyway) and so the accents felt unnecessary. When the accent slipped, it added more intensity to Smithers’ delivery (the same applied to Winsome), and keeping their own would’ve enhanced their portrayals.
Winsome as Cosmo was a perfect foil to Smithers. Cosmo is crass and vulgar yet elegant and charming, restrained in voice and movement, despite his garish red-sequinned costume, in turns delighted and disgusted. His quiet, bored interjections were a great contrast to Presley’s excited, childish chatter, and made his outbursts even more impactful. I was torn during Presley’s monologuing between watching Smithers build his momentum, and Winsome’s rapt expression, which developed so beautifully. His interactions with the sleeping Hayley were awful and gripping. It was impossible to look away from him even when I wanted to (and when the cockroaches were involved, I really wanted to). He made my skin crawl, in the best way.
To reach our seats, we had to cross the stage, treading piles of rubbish beneath our feet. It’s a very intimate space, resulting in a particularly confronting viewing experience given the content. It felt voyeuristic, like we were flys on the walls of this filthy house, watching these terrified adult children navigate this experience.
The content is definitely not for everyone, but it’s definitely worth seeing.
The lighting was simple and effective, darkening or changing colour throughout storytelling, and a single spotlight moment that was particularly potent. The set was wonderfully revolting, from the stains on the walls to the chaotic piles of rubbish on the floor, threadbare blankets on the couch, and the timeless wooden table. The dirty window was my favourite, featuring a single love heart sticker; it was such a small but effective touch. Equally effective were the matching black-tee-grey-trackies costumes of Hayley and Presley, especially when contrasted with Cosmo and Pitchfork’s garish attire.
Overall, the play itself lacked depth and relevancy. I wanted to be shocked and disgusted, but meaningfully so and I didn’t feel The Pitchfork Disney was able to do that. While some moments spoke to me - Cosmo’s speech about his profession, for example - mostly I felt ambivalent, and like something essential was missing. I also desperately wanted so much more for Hayley, instead of her being a prop. However, the production was extremely well done, in both design choices and acting skills, with only a few minor flaws. The content is definitely not for everyone, but it’s definitely worth seeing.
The Pitchfork Disney
presented by: Virginia Plain
written by: Philip Ridley
cast: Jane Angharad, James Hartley, James Smithers, Harry Winsome
director/designer: Victor Kalka
assistant director: Fances Colin
18+ only venue.
Tickets: $20 - $35