'A fable of adultery – more style than substance'
- Credit: Richard Davenport
The Forest, Hampstead Theatre
The latest work by The Father playwright Florian Zeller debuts at Hampstead with a stellar cast and seasoned director.
And the nightmarish fable of successful surgeon Pierre, undone by an extra marital affair, carries the Zeller hallmark of wrong-footing the audience with non linear storytelling, repeating scenes - with variations - and even two actors playing the lead.
As dreamscapes alternate with bloody flashbacks, Jonathan Kent's stylish production offers the unsettling experience of making it impossible to work out what's true. But ultimately the play dissipates the assembled talent and fails to generate the emotional and psychological charge of Zeller's previous works about dementia (The Father) teen psychosis (The Son) and maternal obsession. (The Mother).
While the action is framed as a fairytale viewed through Pierre's guilt-fevered, fractured mind, the audience's reality is stock characters - demanding, unstable Mistress (Angel Coulby) loyal wife (Gina McKee) who often speak in platitudes. And there's little hinterland to suggest why Pierre might be adulterous - and possibly murderous - except a split between good Pierre (Toby Stephens) and bad Pierre (Paul McGann) which makes it hard to connect with his pain.
There may be more style than substance, but there are compelling moments of unease; as Anna Fleischle's chic Parisian apartment menacingly fills with lavish bouquets, or the white-faced "Man in Black" (Finbar Lynch) interrogates Pierre and recounts the story of a man who pursues a beautiful stag into the forest and gets lost.
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And there are few more searingly intense looks than the one a suspicious McGee bestows upon her husband in the final seconds.
The Forest is at Hampstead Theatre until March 12. For tickets visit www.hampsteadtheatre.com/whats-on/2022/the-forest