January 8th, 1999: Walt Disney Studios recalled three-million copies of its wildly popular animated film The Rescuers when two frames of its film-stock were shown to have been cut with pornographic images by its animators. A biliously nostalgic thought, isn’t it? Only a few days ago the brilliant Phillip Seymour Hoffman withdrew into a Manhattan apartment where he died of a heroin overdose. The actor’s death speaks of the most difficult part to play in life, but it wore the aspect of the ultimate in misanthropy, especially where it supposedly incited a man to retreat and self-medicate into oblivion; to curl up into the imagination to die.
I mention it, along with the Disney anecdote, to focus on an undescribed line between infantilism and adulthood in light of a play on at the Keble O’Reilly this week. The adult’s sickness of dependency as a latent reflex of childhood is at the centre of Philip Ridley’s early staple of the British ‘in-yer-face’ style, The Pitchfork Disney, and feels like one of its more relevant aspects.
This latest from director Sam Ward and the Hypnotist Theatre Company stars Jonny Purkiss and Zoe Bullock as the orphaned twins, Hayley and Presley, who have withdrawn into a self-induced coma of chocolate and medicine. They are twenty-eight years old, their childhood extending on the conviction that post-apocalyptia lies beyond the front door, confining them to drift dopily between sleep and waking hallucination. When Presley violates the code and impulsively invites a porcelain-faced showman, Cosmo Disney (Nick Finerty), in off the streets, the play spreads its psycho-sexual wings.
One wonders throughout Ward’s well-paced investigation if we don’t all go on sating our own displaced needs for unconditional affection with myriad anti-social comforts, possibly in the wake of the warping vanity of the confectionary of childhood. But the director is done no favours by Ridley’s sense of the grotesque having worn considerably, erring now on gaudy gothic.
The writing lapses often into contrivances of imagery that fail to serve the play’s essential tragedy, and the characters of the twins wear a little thin. This is especially the case when placed beside Cosmo, whose wheeling between lyrical narcissism and a hysteric compulsion against physical contact is held by Finerty, though in the end he is more fey than blood-curdling. Purkiss as the disaffected Presley plays it with characteristic soul, if a little too anaesthetized. However, he truly nails the monologue that is the play’s heart, its sugar and cough syrup-fueled misanthropy nothing more than a parable of modern world xenophobia and the myth of love. The director needed an ear for the awkward disparity in accents here, as Presley takes his moping in cockney next to his distinctly posh sister. Bullock is unfortunately one note, though is done a real disservice by a first half of gaping and tensionless lack of eye-contact.
The door the audience enters by is locked shut in an inspired turn of chilling design, but the rest takes place in the midst of an aesthetically unassured set. This is a deeply precarious project of Hypnotist Theatre, though Ward’s direction does occasionally hit the script’s highly pitched hybrid of gluttonous eloquence and tender hopelessness. He should be paid attention for a rare ambition to cultivate something vividly unsettling, particularly as, with this brand of theatre, one can’t make up one’s mind if it’s not all hanging on the lurid, if its poetics of nausea isn’t just dry-retching.
PHOTO/Hypnotist Theatre Company