Pairing director Jamie Lloyd with writer Philip Ridley seems almost guaranteed to produce a hit – a vibrant director that appeals to a youthful, diverse audience and a writer who found fame in the 1990s for pioneering vulgar, shocking and unapologetic plays. Bringing a fresh take on The Pitchfork Disney to the basement studio of Shoreditch Town Hall is a triquetra of hipster chic, so much so that only the most disparaging of theatregoers would assume this to be anything other than a success. Not one to rest on his name though, Jamie Lloyd turns to his long-standing successful collaboration with Soutra Gilmour to design an evocative set, highly stylised and oozing character, in order to immerse the audience in the scene and saturate us with an uneasy, dystopian yet oddly comfortable atmosphere. We are unsure and already intrigued.
Armchairs, cushions and haphazard plush furniture are dotted along the fringes of the studio, a surrealist playground that forms a dishevelled Victorian drawing room in which the action plays out. Twins Presley (George Blagden) and Haley Stray (Hayley Squires) constantly engage each other in childlike arguments, fantastical stories and exceptionally immature conversation. They are clearly in their twenties yet both have regressed to a childlike state of companionship, doting and interdependency, leaning on each other for closure and survival. The parents are nowhere to be found – lost or dead, it doesn’t matter, these two have no-one else to cling to. They seem addled, seeking solace in their own imaginations – Squires in particular paints an addictive picture, dependent on chocolate, her adolescent ecstasy.
But it’s the dreams (or are they nightmares) that capture and frighten the twins, vivid images that both actors conjure up to draw the audience in. We sit, wide-eyed in wonder and yearning to know more, our internal sense of childlike curiosity getting the better of us. Then, in a twist typical of Ridley’s absurdist style, the bogeyman enters. He should be completely nonsensical, utterly disbelieving. But Cosmo Disney (Tom Rhys Harries), clad in red sequins and exuding a sinister, alternative brand of confidence, is spellbinding to Presley. Harries instantly creates a magnetic persona, verges of psychotic breakout that strut up and down the catwalk, enticing us all in. Harries is a preening peacock, showing off his feathers in all their glory. Yet the pinnacle of the performance is when the cracks in his façade start to show – the rare outbursts, the tearful breakdown when the tables finally turn and Cosmo succumbs to the vulnerability in Presley’s story. This climactic tale breaks all barriers, showcasing Blagden’s versatility and pathos. In typical Lloyd style, this moment of tenderness is swiftly broken by Pitchfork (Seun Shote); head to toe in a latex gimp outfit, he blunders in and yanks the atmosphere in a completely different direction once more.
As an immersive version of the play, Lloyd reveals so much more than the alternative outer shell in Ridley’s writing. This version of The Pitchfork Disney is a stylised production with a point – siblings desperate to be taken care of but finding out the true horror of inviting the outside world in. Even Shote’s shocking performance is in keeping, out of the box and yet completely within the world that Lloyd conjures forth. In this first show of a Ridley-Lloyd double bill at the Shoreditch Town Hall, the bar is now set incredibly high.
Director: Jamie Lloyd
Writer: Philip Ridley
Design: Soutra Gilmour; Richard Howell (Lighting); Ben & Max Ringham and George Dennis (Sound)
Cast: George Blagden; Hayley Squires; Tom Rhys Harries; Seun Shote
Runs until 18 Mar 2017 – visit the website to buy tickets.