Thursday, 27 March 2014

Pitch Black

The Pitchfork Disney is a tough challenge: set either in a dystopian future, down the back of someone's subconscious or in a house two doors down from mine, it constantly flickers between moods and modes (paranoid and funny, seductive and monstrous), connecting its four characters through their barely expressed desires and shared alienation. The protagonists (a pair of twins, full grown, not identical but infantile) discover that their fear of the world outside is justified, when Cosmo Disney and his acquaintance (Cosmos doesn't do friendship) turn up and usher in sexual longing, the threat of violence and snapshots from the entertainment underworld.

Heroes Theatre make the most of Ridley's script's ambiguity. The staging is sparse - a single sofa - but colorful - the world beyond the twins' house is guarded by a shimmering tinsel curtain. Eve Nicol's direction refuses to force any additional context onto the series of disjointed, disorientating episodes, allowing the disorientating collision of dreams and fantasies to exist in a suspended reality. From here, both Alan MacKenzie (Presley Stray, the male twin) and Stephen Humpage (Cosmo) are given space to turn their speeches (described by Nicol as 'party pieces') into extended monologues of unfocused terror. Since Presley's main strategy for coping with horror is relating his fantastical dreams, even the sharp interjections of Cosmo never ground the play in a recognisable reality.

Although Ridley is strongly associated with the British neo-brutalist writers of the 1990s, Pitchfork's aggression is psychological. Pitchfork himself is a mash-up of gimp, enforcer and freak show star. Handled with menace by Patrick Stratford, he delights in exercising his power in a final comic moment, yet is manipulated by Cosmo into exploiting his disability. The tension between Cosmo and the Stray twins comes not only from Cosmo's paranoia about homosexuality - and rapacious desire for the sister - but in the conflict between their world views. Cosmo claims no parents and absolute self-sufficiency, while the twins depend on memories of their parents to define their existence.

By allowing the script to exist in a contextual vacuum, the production emphasises its various themes: Cosmos' skills as a showman become strategies to remove Presley and leave sister Hayley open to his attention; the conflation between the sentimental and savagery exposing how violence can be masked; the dreams of Presley spiralling towards an erotic fantasy of complete annihilation - and lurk at the back of it all, a fear of death through intimacy (an unsurprising trope from theatre made in the time of AIDS' emergence).

The taut direction, and largely naturalistic performances (Humpage, in particular, plays up Cosmo's street urchin distrust rather than his fairground extravagance) drives this interpretation hard and fast: Ridley's language is both poetic and littered with pop culture references, like a literary bricolage that slams together pain, hope, life, desire, lust, suppression, ghosts, fear, compassion and rage.

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