Review: The Forest, Hampstead Theatre

Like being given a jigsaw with no corner pieces, the challenges of putting together what is happening in Florian Zeller’s The Forest means it is hardly worth the trip to the Hampstead Theatre

Apparently you’ve no objection to telling stories yourself”

You might not have picked Florian Zeller to be the writer who arguably one of the most regularly produced in London over the last few years but theatres have fallen hard for the French playwright (indeed, cinemas too as his Academy Award for The Father last year attests). His latest new play The Forest arrives now at the Hampstead Theatre but despite the quality cast, I found it hugely disappointing.

Any familiarity with Zeller means that you know nothing is ever straight-forwardly presented in his world. But he pushes that to the extreme here, amping up the levels of disconcertion to a point of almost meaninglessness. There’s naturally no concession to narrative construction but this goes beyond fiendish puzzle building, this is being obtuse for the sake of being obtuse, Zeller trying to outdo his reputation at the expense of all else.

So there’s Man 1 (Toby Stephens) who we see with his wife Laurence (Gina McKee) discussing their daughter’s breakup. Then there’s Man 2 (Paul McGann) who is cheating on his wife with Girlfriend (Angel Coulby). And as scenes replay and refract with key details changing, we edge closer to the idea that Man 1 and Man 2 are two sides of the same guy and given that Girlfriend dies every time, something seriously troubling is afoot.

But even that makes it seem more interesting than it is in the watching. Supporting characters waft around with no impact, not least Finbar Lynch’s Man in Black. And Zeller really lets his female characters down, McKee is utterly wasted and Coulby is scarcely allowed to break out of the hot victim trope. Jonathan Kent’s production is undoubtedly stylish but Zeller’s play is seriously underwhelming 

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Richard Davenport
The Forest is booking at the Hampstead Theatre until 12th March

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