In a forest, dark and deep March 26th, ’11

london west end

Well, how to start this review without being too negative from the get go?

I loved Olivia Williams. She is brilliant as the desperate, mourning, guilt ridden older sister and she manages to look different while playing on stage and then coming out for her bows. She’s a really fabulous actress and I’m glad I’ve seen her.

I liked the play by Neil Labute. He’s slowly building up the tension between the two siblings, slowly changing the dynamic between sister and brother until the successful, overbearing golden daughter and the aggressive, physical, disappointing son suddenly are the thoughtful, clear minded and helpful man and the helpless, hate filled and desperate woman.

The play unfortunately had no help at all by acclaimed US-import Matthew Fox at the Vaudeville theatre. Fox, best known for his role in award winning TV series Lost, was clearly that: Lost in a demanding part and quite thoroughly so. Half of his face covered in a full grey beard (which makes him look decades older than his supposedly older sister) which is his own, I’m afraid, he says his lines with almost no change in tone or emphasis. Even his expletives sound like a polite way of saying oh, no, how bad… Add to that a palpable insecurity of what to do with himself on the stage that sees him hesitant even weeks into his first run of his West End debut and Matthew Fox is the picture of someone clearly out of his depth.  By now he knows that theatre is a different beast than TV work and I doubt he’ll undertake this venture ever again. At least I hope it – for the sake of the unsuspecting audience.

The play itself is – or would be with a capable leading man – a character study of sibling rivalry that can be cutting and even violent – but in times of an outside threat vanishes immediately and unites the siblings, making them stronger than before.

In this case it’s the overbearing successful and brainy older sister who phones her brother, much less successful than her, already sentenced because he hit one of his girlfriends and a carpenter to her dean of english lit, at two at night. Despite a terrible thunderstorm he arrives to help her clear a small cottage in a forest, dark and deep. A cottage that, it turns out, was the romantic get-away of  the married with kids sister when she had fallen for one of her students, thus continuing her loose life from before her marriage. But it’s not just that – as the night slowly turns into morning and the thunderstorm continues to disrupt not only electricity but also Betty’s peace of mind, or so it seems, she starts to uncover more and more details of her sordid affair, and of how it ended, first admitting to the affair itself, then that her lover died in an accident, then that he had been unfaithful to her, just like her husband, and that he’d kept a diary she found. And all of a sudden, confronted with his description of her, an accident isn’t an accident any longer…

As I said before – it could have been a really good play – but thanks to Fox it sounded more like In a forest, bored and bland. I’m glad I didn’t splurge for premium seats – which were occupied from happily clapping fans. The rest of the theatre was not that “busy” – the evenings are better, as one long suffering theatre usher told me.


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