I’ll admit going into this show knowing little other than what the flyer looked like and the name of the theatre – I’d made a mistake booking tickets, thought I was all set up for She Stoops to Conquer, and inadvertently found myself with a free night. Ian “Ought to be Clowns” to the rescue! I had a brief check of the Arcola’s website, and once I’d made sure this show didn’t have anything to do with the Walt Disney company or its properties, I figured I’d just go for it, although I was a bit nervous how I would hold up given my shortage of sleep the night before. But when I got to the theatre, it looked like I’d hit the jackpot – a 1:45 running time! WOO HOO! I was going to make it home before midnight!
In retrospect, falling asleep was really not a problem for this show, possibly thanks to some help from the glasses of Turkish tea I had beforehand at the Tukra baklava shop (yum!). Wanting to leave the theatre due to disengagement was much more of a problem; as it turned out, my “gift” of an early night wasn’t nearly the deal I thought it was. Pitchfork Disney was one of the most unrewarding shows I’ve ever seen, managing to make its two hours seem impossibly drawn out, like I was running through the hallway in Poltergeist, never able to reach the exit. What odd new twist would be introduced, what fantasy scenario would play out, who would knock at the door? (Not buying a program makes the possibility of new characters appearing a much more suspenseful question – nothing like finding out a show was actual a FOUR hander in the last five minutes.) Did the author have another idea for a gross out moment? Oh, goody, I couldn’t wait to find out. I mean, I could, and I did, and I sat through it all, but I hated not even being able to look at my non-existent watch to find out when the warden was going to set us free from this torturous show.
Part of the reason why I did manage to stay was that the writing was so good at times: truly powerful when the siblings Presley (Chris New) and Hailey (Mariah Gale) were telling each other stories. However, the two of them were not really interesting in their relationship with themselves (or anyone else): I spent some time unravelling their relationship, wound up never understanding how they got to where they were, eventually decided they weren’t really worth knowing. And the acting was very strong: both managed to seem like people with very solid pasts, and both wholly held the stage when they were in story-telling mode.
But. But but but but. This piece of miserabilist theatre (along with Ecstacy and Haunted Child) seemed have no idea where it was going. It struggled with its Grand Guignol leanings (ooh! Gross out horror moment one! Sadomasochism reference! More gross outs!) and lost, the audience laughing more than they should have, the play lacking the self-awareness that would have allowed it to recover gracefully. It had some hopes of being either a really interesting post-apocalyptic terror play (I think I’ve only seen this in movies, it would have been a good path) or a deep, deep plunge into the human psyche, but after a few steps down this path it turns back and gets lost in some more story telling. We don’t end up knowing much more about Presley and Hailey (or their missing parents, or how they got to be where they are in their lives) at the end than we did in the beginning; the character Disney fails to achieve the Woman in Black status he seemed to be aiming for when he first appeared. The play is a flop, a damp squib, a failure, another horrible example of talent wasted due to a critical failure on the part of the writer to create good material. But this play is hardly new; and as the Arcola fails to find an audience for this show, they will have to think hard about just what process they are using to screen scripts for production.
(This review is for a performance that took place on January 25th, 2012. It continues through March 17th, 2012. If you change your mind right before you go in, don’t worry, there are lots of delicious Turkish restaurants in the area that will make you feel much less like you’ve completely wasted your trip to Dalston. God knows if it hadn’t been for 19 Numara Bos Cirrik I would have been much more bitter about my evening.)