Theatre review - The Forest

FRENCH playwright Florian Zeller is perhaps best known for 
The Father, adapted into an Oscar-winning film. Jonathan Kent’s slick production of The Forest, also translated by Christopher Hampton, is brilliantly staged and boasts a stunning cast. Zeller uses similar devices to subvert the narrative structure and disorientate the audience.

The Forest opens with a middle-aged surgeon Pierre (Toby Stephens), arriving home to his wife (Gina McKee). She tells him their daughter (Millie Brady), has discovered her boyfriend is having an affair. The action then moves to a bedroom – this is situated above them (thanks to Anna Fleischle’s sensational two-tiered set). Another middle-aged man (Paul McGann) is in bed with a young woman, Sophie (Angel Coulby).

Through a series of scenes, repeated with subtle variations, we recognise that McGann and Stephens represent the same amoral husband, wanting all the excitement of a relationship with a younger woman but unwilling to give up a safe, secure marriage. It looks like we’re in for a classic domestic drama about middle-aged male angst. But Zeller injects a layer of Pinteresque menace.

When Sophie begins to demand more of Pierre and threatens to tell his wife of their affair, he starts to think of ways to rid himself of her.

As the scenes replay, his anxiety grows and reality blurs. Bouquet of flowers fill the family home and a painting is transformed.

The third setting is a small office. Here Pierre visits a “Man in Black” (Finbar Lynch), wearing white makeup. He could be a therapist, but also acts as his interrogator and conscience. The man tells Pierre the story of a prince who goes hunting in the forest. He glimpses a glorious white stag and sets off in pursuit. As night falls, the prince realises the stag has disappeared and he is lost.

In psychoanalysis, the forest reflects the subconscious; a symbolic place where our phobias take root. Zeller’s take is stylish and compelling to watch, but may leave some audience members scratching their heads.

Until March 12

Originally published by Camden New Journal