The only thing my esteemed editor told me about The Pichfork Disney was that it was at La Boite, and it was about chocolate. “Mmmmm, chocolate,” I drooled Homer Simpson-style. Maybe this play will explain why chocaholics (ie, me) can devour a 250g block of Cadbury Top Deck and still feel hungry enough to down their own weight in Toblerone and M&Ms not two hours later? This and other important cocoa-bean related issues I thought would be the subject of this oddly-titled play. I wasn’t quite right.
This play is really hard to describe. I know I say that about all the plays I review, but I swear, I was just being lazy those times. (Hee hee). I’ll leave the description to the program, which states “What do you do when the bad dreams you keep having walk through the door and asked what happened to Mummy and Daddy?” That sums it up better than I could. After all, I was expecting a story that included Willy Wonka somewhere.
Presley Stray (Damien Cassidy) and Haley Stray (Melinda Butel) are twins. They still live in the house they grew up in, except their parents haven’t been around for the last ten. They live in filth, and only go outside to pick up the pills that keep them sane, and the chocolate that gives them sustenance. Yes, chocolate, sweet giver of life. But back to the story.
These 28-year-old twins are emotional and physical wrecks they live in pyjamas, gorge on chocolate, and have to take pills to sleep. They are plagued by nightmares, and talk in childish routine about their youth, their parents and their dreams. Haley falls asleep, calmed by sucking on a dummy dipped in her parents’ medicine. Free of his sister’s fears, Presley opens the door to the outside world and lets in Cosmo Disney (Yalin Ozucelik). A confident yet extremely homophobic showman in an outrageous red jacket, Disney engages in spirited conversation with Presley, who thinks the stranger is beautiful and wants to be his friend. Disney has a grossly disfigured assistant, Pitchfork Cavalier, yet despite the presence of these visitors, Haley remains asleep.
I have to say straight off that the performances in this show are just superb. Butel and Cassidy are fabulously disturbed as the Strays (note the clever surname that ties in with the themes of parental abandonment and isolation), and even though I didn’t like Butel at first, she really grew on me and I found it disappointing that she spent so much of the play asleep in a chair. Cassidy plays Presley to perfection his mannerisms, his voice, everything is believable and real. He also deals well with the huge monologues of his character, which in the hands of a lesser actor could have really dragged the show down. Ozucelik’s Cosmo Disney, all movement and showmanship, provides most of the play’s humour. The pace is great over all, but Ozucelik especially keeps it moving. And Jonathan Brand as the freak Pitchfork Cavalier is slightly off-putting to this reviewer who’s been scared of gimp masks ever since Pulp Fiction. But great nonetheless in a role that requires great focus and physical control.
But to the play itself. I can’t really tell you much more about the story because I’m not sure myself. It’s confusing and messed up. I don’t mean messed-up in a bad, suicidal-teenager-messed-up way, but in a good, challenging-theatrical-conventions-and-making-you-think way. On the Natalie’s Dad-o-meter, it’s got laughs and chocolate (the chocolate theme really does work well), but it’s also hard to follow and very dark and disturbed in places.
My major criticism of the script would be that so much is left unexplained, and I can only draw so many conclusions without help. I would have liked to know just what happened to the twins’ parents, and also how much of what went on with Disney and Pitchfork was real and what was not. Again, that may have been the point, but hey, I’m a theatre bogan, remember?
The set, lighting and sound design are well done so that the atmosphere of the play is perfectly established. To the good performances already mentioned I’d add good direction from Jamie Dawson. The play, at just over an hour and a half, is tight and enthralling throughout. It should also be said that Better Than Nuthin! productions, who put on the show in association with La Boite, chose interesting and original material to experiment with, and it’s definitely worth a view. But if you’re expecting fun with chocolate, you’re in for a surprise!