Review: THEATRE The Pitchfork Disney Bolton Octagon

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The Independent Culture
Sugar and spice and all things nice... Slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails. Hayley is a chocoholic, orange preferably, while her twin brother Presley has been known to fry himself a live grass snake. They live in a mangy flat defended by six locks - a suspicion of the outside world reinforced by Hayley's last outing, which ended with her climbing a huge marble crucifix to embrace the Saviour and beg his aid against the ravenous dogs that have pursued her from the supermarket. No loyalty card is likely to tempt her back and, indeed, there is no loyalty like that of the tender Presley with his lullaby of how they're the sole survivors of a nuclear holocaust.

Suddenly Presley invites in Cosmo Disney, an auburn leather boy, untouchably perfect. He eats cockroaches for a living - we hear the crack, like nut brittle, and then he smiles a cartoon snake smile. He persuades Presley to join him in what he calls a "communion" - slugs and snails... Cosmo has a partner, Pitchfork Cavalier, a deformed giant in the same red sequinned jacket but with his head encased in a leather mask. The climax of their act is when Cosmo removes it. He says they cater to "man's needs for the shivers", our contradictory denial of horror and our lust for it - just as this play is doing.

Philip Ridley's thesis in The Pitchfork Disney is that we are all scared, and that, as the shredded Hayley says in a potent speech that is the highlight of Andrea Ellis's fine, nervy performance, "It doesn't make any difference if I'm good or not, there's nothing we can do to save ourselves". Like Hayley and Presley, although adults, we are really lost children, anxious and unable to deal with new experience, especially sexual.

My problem with the play is that although it is sensational it is essentially undramatic. The cloying relationship between the twins is fascinating but, with Hayley doped most of the time, remains undeveloped. What is dwelt upon is the whole matter of what little boys are made of and how difficult it is to grow up. As the long dream sequence that Presley relates makes clear, Cosmo and Pitchfork are really the figures of his unconscious: the first a scary but riveting companion and the embodiment of confused sexual desire, the second a bogeyman representing ultimate terror - "the horror, the horror". The psychology is absorbing - and may even be right - but doesn't its subjectivity really belong in fiction or poetry rather than in the external engagements of drama?

None the less, Lawrence Till's staging is virtually flawless. Matthew Vaughan brings the utmost plausibility and sympathy to Presley and remarkable concentration to that demanding dream narrative. Viperish and languid, sinuous and repulsive, most reptilian attributes come to mind in describing Gideon Turner's Cosmo - he is, after all, the snake in the hand and the pan. What are little boys made of?

To 8 Feb (01204 520661)