Right from when you walk in and see the stark, eerily lit set you know this is going to be disturbing piece. Dishevelled and bare, yet at times oddly claustrophobic, the staging sets the scene for what is a truly unsettling performance. Violent, nightmarish and intensely creepy, The Pitchfork Disney, directed by Tom Toland, tells the story of ‘medicine’ addled twins whose warped fairy tale world is invaded by the enticingly cold Cosmo Disney (Shannon Smith) and his fearsome companion Pitchfork Cavalier (Ollie Short).  

The unadorned set left it up to the actors to bring this darkly poetic script to life. The way the characters react and relate to one another holds the audience’s attention throughout, switching from frighteningly manic to unnervingly reserved in a heartbeat. The twins Haley (Laura Gallop) and Presley (James Bentley) have a  relationship that is portrayed as naïve, threatening, tender, destructive and devoted, a delicate balance that spirals quickly and violently out of control when disturbed by Cosmo’s dangerously fragile calm and Pitchfork’s ominous physical presence.

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Pitchfork Disney is a brave choice for any production company. It is a perverse story full of apocalyptic, vicious and sexual imagery, laced with homophobia and xenophobia, populated only by sick and damaged individuals. All this leaves both cast and crew vulnerable to the temptation of exaggeration and overstatement – something this particular production managed to skilfully avoid for the most part. From set to characterisation everything is delicate and elegant.

The audience is forced to think and analyse characters, taking all the nuances and running away with them and trying to work out how everyone got here. This is not to say the performance was without explosive passion and moments of high tension, rather that these are intensified by the unnerving quiet of the rest. There is a constant threat of violence and ferocity meaning you are always on edge.

There is a constant threat of violence and ferocity meaning you are always on edge.

It is also a play that allows for surrealism; where the realistic narrative and some naturalistic techniques are combined with surreal elements of dream or fantasy. This was however, only tentatively hinted at, I would have liked to see more of it. The frequent reference to nightmare and fairy tale leaves open the option for surreal elements, and a clear enough decision was not made here as to whether or not to include surreal elements in the performance.  This is nevertheless, the only slight hesitation in an otherwise confident piece.

A perverse story full of apocalyptic, vicious and sexual imagery, laced with homophobia and xenophobia

The fact that it is such long script, littered with lengthy monologues, again makes it a risky choice. With such a script you are relying on the actors to give a multi-layered and engaging performance, which was achieved here. Again the team must be commended for not hiding behind an ornate set, lighting or sound. The actors were left entirely exposed throughout long speeches and held their own.

All this leaves the audience embodying the sick ‘human’ fascination described throughout the play. Like Presley, you hate the treatment of Pitchfork, yet want to see how far he can be pushed; during the twisted speeches you find yourself physically tensing up, hoping both for it to end and for more gruesome detail to be given. And of course there is the tantalisingly terrifying prospect of Pitchfork removing his mask and revealing his fantastically horrible face…

 There is a constant threat of violence and ferocity meaning you are always on edge.

Despite being incredibly disturbed by the play (as intended) I left my first ever Nottingham New Theatre performance  extremely impressed with the professional standard of this production. This show is not for the faint-hearted but I would highly recommend it to anyone not easily upset.

Laura Cann

 Star-Rating-41

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