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Review: The Pitchfork Disney (Shoreditch Town Hall)

Jamie Lloyd directs an immersive version of Philip Ridley's play

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Philip Ridley can seem like a Comic Sans Pinter. It's been a quarter century since his debut play, The Pitchfork Disney, first played at the Bush and his style is so singular and unswerving that Ridley plays can feel like parodies of themselves. They're comedies of menace on a poppers high, full of East End lowlifes dressed in glitter and gladrags. Pinter scowls, Ridley cackles. He turns destitution into delirium.

Which is to say, his plays don't always make total sense. They're trippier than that, swirling and strange; The Pitchfork Disney more than most. So it's smart of Jamie Lloyd to stage it in the cramped, squalid basement of Shoreditch Town Hall. Paint peels off the walls, damp hangs in the air. It's kind of immersive, but mostly claustrophobic: a proto in-yer-face play plonked on-yer-lap, fast and furious. This is theatre as a fairground ride; a right Shoreditch Shocker.

This is a play that, like Shoreditch itself, slams infantilism into lost innocence. Haley and Presley Stray, twentysomething orphans, hole themselves away in a roach-riddled, East End squat. The cooker's kaput, the fridge is charred black and they gorge themselves on an all-chocolate diet that would put Hansel and Gretel to shame. Eating chocolate, apparently, releases all the endorphins that come from falling in love.

Their cocoa habit is, perhaps, a surrogate. The Strays cling to memories of their parents, repeating an old mantra that they're "the best children in the world." Anything adult horrifies them: shopping trips, paying bills, post offices. Religion offers solace and they scrub themselves sin-free with confession and communion. Medicine, too: Haley (Hayley Squires) sucks some drug from a dummy and conks out. George Blagden's Presley promises to keep her safe.

And yet, in bursts Cosmo Disney – 18 years-old and adult before his time. Tom Rhys Harries, boyishly beautiful, bleached blond and cast to absolute perfection, swaggers in like a shot of confidence; red sequinned blazer catching the light, signet rings glinting, teeth glistening white. He's this perfect twink, a Smash Hits coverstar with a switchblade smile. "One day I was shitting my nappy," he snaps, "The next I was earning money." How? How do you think? These days he's eating cockroaches as a variety turn, swallowing slugs in pubs. (Ridley's inspiration was an actual act.)

Lloyd's production has one fuck of a heartbeat. This is a hell-for-leather, foot-to-the-floor, hold-on-to-your-hats and don't-look-back sort of staging; nought to sixty in no time at all. His cast talk as if turning tongue-twisters on uppers, and Ridley's muscular language – a pitter-patter of glistening adjectives and horrific acts – goes to work on you. If it's sometimes nonsensical, it's almost always sensational. Speech tap, tap, taps against your skull, images bore into your brain, and if the onslaught of turbo-babble can be exhausting, it also unleashes something exhilarating.

Unleashes is right. To say more would spoil it, but Seun Shote charges in like all your nightmares at once; a performance of total frothing intensity. His entrance is like an oil strike and, having laced the action with unspoken sexual threat, Lloyd finally taps into the dark well beneath the sugary surface.

The Pitchfork Disney runs at Shoreditch Town Hall until 18 March.