The Pitchfork Disney, Arcola, London


It's the twenty-first anniversary of Philip Ridley's The Pitchfork Disney, the play that is often credited as being the started point of the 1990s "In-Yer-Face" school of writing.

The occasion is being marked at the Arcola with a visually striking revival by Edward Dick that boasts a mesmerically powerful performance from Chris New.   The play reworks the  "Babes in the Wood" myth and views it through the lens of East End Gothic.  Presley and Haley (Mr New and Mariah Gale) are chocoholic agarohobic twenty-eight year old twins who have become trapped in increasingly hermetic fantasies of being the sole durvivors of a nuclear holocaust, since their parents died a decade ago.  Their sealed-off myth-making world is violated by the arrival of Cosmo (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), a cocky young showbiz bobby-dazzler in a red spangly tux and no shirt.  His giant of henchman goes for a more understated look, the all-over black rubber suit and mask. .

A lot has been made in the pre-publicity for this revival of the play's prescience.  What had seemed fantastical back then (the notorious cock-roach eating bout) no longer no seems so gross in the sickly light of I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here) and the concept of the shut-in (people whe develop a phobia of the outside world) is a well-doucmented reality, not in the province of the freak-show.  Still, it's as a play that The Pitchfork Disney stands or falls rather than as a set of cultural premonitions.  And it stands up wonderfully well.  Ridley taps into universal fears and anxieties though giving us (if I may presume to say so) access into a blackly comic and cockneyfied version of his own.  He was a bedbound asthmatic for long stretches off his childood.  In the piece it's as though all an adolescent's morbid dread of being found wanting have been magnified, through agoraphobia, into apocalyptic proportions. 281

Sweating with febrile panic in his ratty zip-cardigan and rotten-toothed from the chocolate, New brilliantly transmits the desperate feelings of inadequacy and protectiveness towards his sister that fuel Presley's protracted flights into mind-bending fantasy - of a child in a shop, say, frantically trying on suits that no longer fit and of surviving a nuclear disaster that he has himself caused.  In an eye-catching if also faintly vapid portrayal, Stewart-Jarrett's Cosmo preens and taunts the former, claming to be able to shuck off one perfect skin for another with frictionless ease.  The production looks terrific with the rancid little room positioned on an apron stage that juts into the Arcola's mighty brick space.  Not everybody's idea of claustrophobia but immensely striking.

To 17 March