Review – Pitchfork Disney – Arcola Theatre


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.)

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10 Responses to “Review – Pitchfork Disney – Arcola Theatre”

  1. aliciaw Says:

    the night you were there, I was there to watch their other production, Freedom. Seriously one of the worst plays I’ve ever seen (I’ve seen a lot) – the only one I was actually desperate to rewrite on behalf of the author. The worst play I ever saw was some god-awful thing at the Arcola about 3 months ago based on an opera. It had 3 instances of 3-minute long oral sex in it which, even if only acted, was excrutiatingly embarrassing for the audience. And the rest of it was not much better.

    I had always had good experiences of the Arcola up till now. So far, 2 truly dreadful, and sad to say I have tickets booked for Pitchfork too. This could be the end of it for me. Shame because it’s 5 mins walk from me. I don’t know what’s going on there nowadays.

  2. Anon, London Says:

    I saw the original 1991 Bush Theatre production of ‘The Pitchfork Disney’ and it was absolutely brilliant – so much so that I went back to see it again. However, I’ve seen one disappointing fringe revival of it since then (it came nowhere near the electrifying effect, shock and humour of the original staging).

    I haven’t yet seen the Arcola production was surprised by your ‘1hr45’ running time – that sounds less tight than the original. It’s also a play in which much depends on casting, and in this respect I’m finding the Arcola’s publicity a little dishonest. They don’t mention that the play’s 1991 ‘audiences were left breathless, intoxicated’ etc because of the power of the casting and direction: specifically, we were in a tiny room above a pub watching Rupert Graves (who was 101% awesome as the original Presley and won an award for it). I bought tickets early for the Arcola Pitchfork, then literally felt a little sick when I saw they’d cast Chris New as Presley (in the light of New’s semi-improv speech in *this* scene from Andew Haigh’s film ‘Weekend’:!) I had nothing against New before, but the ‘coincidence’ now makes me wonder if he has some weird semi-hostile fixation on Graves…

  3. Patrick Says:

    Very astute review of this totally dreadful piece of theatre, if there had been an interval I wouldn’t have returned, the straight through running (which I usually prefer) left me squirming in my seat waiting for this torturous piece to come to an end.
    Simply the worst theatrical production I have ever witnessed in four decades of attending varied theatre. – avoid !

  4. Wolfcubs Says:

    I enjoyed the Pitchfork Disney very much. I hadn’t expected to as I had read the above, so arrived a bit worried. I had not expected the quality I got. The themes were so deep and the imagery sparkling.

    The venue was wonderful and welcoming and entering the theatre was intriguing – I liked the way the stage was like a platform extending into the audience.

    The actors were engaging the actor who played Presley was unknown to me, but I has seen the actor who played Cosmo in Misfits and I think he was very effective as the intelligent shiny Cosmo character. The contrast between his slickness and the post apocalyptic living room was pronounced.


    What I liked the best were the deep themes of growing up, which was repeatedly symbolised in the dialogue about snakes shedding their skins, and Presley’s dream where his skin is burned off, the disguarded chocolate wrappers lying on the stage like shed skins, and other subtle references to growing. The guy in the tight shiny gimp suit re-inforced this theme – especially when his blindfold was removed, and when Cosmo was talking about the fearful face under his mask.

    Having recently seen a Polakoff play at the Almeida, I can say that to an unsqueemish Londoner in her mid thirties, The Pitchfork Disney was more entertaining and meaningful. (and I really like Poliakoff TV productions).

    My criticisms are few. Hayley’s accent seemed to slip into RP when shouting. Quite a bit of the tension I felt in the play was for the sake of the actress, who must have found some way of conquering her fear of being accidentally trodden on as she slept on the floor.

    Otherwise well done – definitely worthwhile seeing.

    • aliciaw Says:

      well I went, full of trepidation – and enjoyed it. It probably helped to have low expectations but the acting was stupendous. It was very difficult to fault what must be some of the most demanding dialogue an actor has had to deliver.

      To be honest I’m not quite sure what to make of the play. I think I sat through most of it with my mouth slightly hanging open. Subject matter is – well, as my friend put it – “there’s wierd, and there’s F***ing wierd”. However having said that it’s powerful stuff and remains believeable throughout, somehow. But the power of the acting is what really holds this production together.

      I would say, go. It’s a F***ing weird experience, and bits of it still make me shudder, but it’s pure theatre. hats off.

  5. Chris Says:

    I can’t take issue with you not liking the play (I loved it and the production; others may not feel the same), but this line from your review seems bizarre:

    “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”

    You make no allowance for the fact that you saw the show at its first preview, but what evidence do you have that the show hasn’t found an audience? A little presumptious, surely.
    Plus, it’s a revival of a critically acclaimed playwright’s critically acclaimed play with a director who has worked with the playwright…. seems pretty well screened to me!

  6. giovanni Says:

    can someone tell the reviewer that – whether you like the play or not – The Pitchfork Disney is considered a landmark play and one that is credited with having hugely influenced and possibly even started the wave of 90s in-yer-face theatre. even henry hitchings, who didn’t like the production (all the other reviewers did, awarding it four stars) says that “Edward Dick’s revival leaves us in no doubt about the influence and prophetic aptness of Philip Ridley’s play.”

  7. webcowgirl Says:

    I had never heard of this play before and think rather than it being a landmark (like “Saved”), it was more of an aberration that was notable at the time but has not held up. Why are you so defensive? Do you think everyone needs to have the same opinion of a play as you do, or that the majority must always be right? I felt the play sought to be shocking and revolting but never succeeded in being a good play, and I believe history will entirely forget it. Let’s check in twenty more years from now – I’ll bet you a box of fresh baklava that I am right.

  8. Neil Says:

    As a representation of Philip Ridley’s mind at that time, I think it did really well. It’s not a play, it’s not drama, it’s something else – psyche-sharing, perhaps – I dunno what you’d call it. (And it sounds like Alicia (above) must’ve been to see Phaedra’s Love. I didn’t see that, but it’s Sarah Kane – another mind splattered on the stage with little care about how it comes across as a story – it’s more like classical music, I think, this kinda thing.

    I was flagging at points – and I thought Nathan was too one-note – but the some of the storytelling set-pieces were wonderful prose poems e.g. the one about being chased by rabid dogs, and the one about being the last person on earth (which was genuinely thrilling and existentially terrifying at the same time).

    The only other Phillip Ridley I’ve seen was Tender Napalm, which also had some similar storytelling in it. When I say ‘storytelling’, I mean, the characters literally stop and tell a flight-of-fancy story – the actual plays aren’t involving as stories in themeselves – they’re strung-together moments of poetic speechmaking.

    But because there’s clearly a joy in the writing, and because the actors enjoy having so much to do, the speeches can be really exciting. As a veggie, it was hard to handle the snake speech, though – but the play certainly addresses the nagging fear of cruelty and torture that (I’m presuming!) haunts us all.

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