Tag Archives: Chris New

“The Pitchfork Disney” at the Arcola Theatre

The Arcola’s new production of Philip Ridley’s The Pitchfork Disney marks the play’s 21st anniversary. It’s a study in terror, which might lead us to speculate whether our collective fears have changed in texture over the last two decades. Ultimately Ridley deals with such basic, and base, themes that his work remains alarming and powerful.

Under Edward Dick’s faultless direction, Chris New and Mariah Gale are remarkable as Presley and Haley – pill-popping, chocolate gorging twins with a psychotic bent. Agoraphobics who wallow in their piteous existence, they tell stories to each other not just for escapism but to perpetuate their trauma.

And what stories, hypnotically poetic, ruthlessly insightful and grotesquely overblown as they are. The cast revel in the telling, with New especially adept in bringing out the morbid, humorous edge. His Presley peeps through the letterbox, looking at the real world but describing his imagined apocalypse.

When the door to this disgusting flat is opened, inviting in a “pretty boy and a foreigner”, we start to see connections between their fantasies and what really exists. Cosmo Disney has a thought-provoking story of his own, and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett’s performance in the role is captivating. He damns the twins as “ancient children” and mocks mankind’s desire for a “daily dose of disgust”, making his dissecting analysis more like a vivisection.

Disney is a performer and Stewart-Jarrett preens to perfection, with a cabaret trick of eating cockroaches. But The Pitchfork Disney doesn’t just curl toes – it surprises. When Disney’s fellow performer Pitchfork arrives, it is into a bizarre, spooky and fantastic scene that doesn’t deserve a plot spoiler. Presley’s nightmare starts to come to life and they play’s conclusion is truly desperate.

If people such as these exist, they surely don’t get this weird without something happening to them. Ridley never offers us a specific reason and his play is so full of themes that the mind boggles. In this way, he leaves us to examine our own fears of “freak accidents and freaks” – and that of course, is truly scary.

Until 17 March 2012


Written 2 February 2012 for The London Magazine

“Lingua Franca” at the Finborough Theatre

The main protagonist of Peter Nicols’ new play Lingua Franca, at the Finborough theatre, is one of many characters in English fiction to fall in love with Italy. He arrives in 1950s Florence to teach English with a copy of A Room With A View in hand and just as many prejudices as Lucy Honeychurch. Unlike Forster’s heroine, Nichols’ character is not at all likeable. Chris New’s rich performance as Steven leads us through a series of moral compromises, revealing a cynical man with a distasteful superiority complex.

His colleagues at the Berlitz School of English are much more appealing. Rula Lenska is wonderfully cast as the elegant, wise Irena and Abigail McKern adds great comic touches to her part as brisk Aussie Madge. The compassionate Jestin is the real innocent abroad. He has a noble naiveté, performed perfectly by Ian Gelder. The school’s punishing schedule and unimaginative method is endured by them all (they have been through a great deal more in the recent war of course) but it takes its toll on younger members of staff.

Continually repeating the names of cutlery to large groups of teenagers would be enough to drive anyone mad and with a cheeky nod to problems in today’s schools, we know it is not a good idea to have so many knives around – especially with Charlotte Randle’s Peggy on staff. In a fantastic performance, Randle shows her character’s problems by degrees. She is funny and pathetic but also overbearing and manipulative. It is fitting that her love for Steven comes across as more a matter of obsession. Her rival for his affections is the German teacher Heidi (Natalie Walter). This Rhinemaiden (with a cleverly delivered American accent) is a figure of fun although her objectionable politics create an uncomfortable mix.

Michael Gieleta’s direction gives Nichols’ superb characters the space they deserve but also succeeds in several short scenes that could have been confusing. Projections of Florence set the scene and the Finborough has the mixed blessing of being able to convey the sweltering summer heat on stage because the auditorium has no air conditioning.

Nichols’ superb play reveals so much to us – not about la dolce vita Italy but austerity Britain. Steven doesn’t learn about where he is but where he comes from and where he is going – America. Forster’s humanism seems lost on him as the course he decides to study is the lingua franca of power. It is an insightful lesson we should all learn about.

Until 7 August


Written 19 July 2010 for The London Magazine