Home » London Theatre Reviews » Florian Zeller’s The Forest at Hampstead Theatre | Review

Florian Zeller’s The Forest at Hampstead Theatre | Review

There’s a front room, a bedroom and an office in The Forest, but no, um, forest. There are character names although these are not listed in the programme, so I shall keep faith with it. Events do not necessarily take place in chronological order, and if taken on an ‘as is’ basis, sections of dialogue are sometimes repeated. But the narrative is going somewhere, even in the repetition, and just when one thinks it could be open to interpretation, matters are clarified to the point where there really is little ambiguity at all.

The Forest - TOBY STEPHENS, GINA MCKEE © The Other Richard.
The Forest – TOBY STEPHENS, GINA MCKEE © The Other Richard.

The Man (Toby Stephens) is married to The Wife (Gina McKee). But there is also The Girlfriend (Angel Coulby), a significant other in his life for some time. The Daughter (Millie Brady) has come back to the family home because she feels her own relationship is over after discovering, by way of correspondence left in a jacket pocket, infidelity. I should also point here that The Man is played by two actors – Man 1 (Stephens) and Man 2 (Paul McGann), in what seems to be a deliberately complex arrangement. When The Man starts speaking to someone nobody else in the room can see, it’s clear his psychological state is far from perfect, but it is not always immediately obvious: The Wife senses something is not quite right but can’t put her finger on what it is.

For some reason there’s a stag lying in a bed in the closing moment – nobody refers to it, and I couldn’t relate it to anything in the dialogue. So, for now, it shall have to remain unexplained. The Man’s response to The Daughter’s discovery of being cheated on is intriguing at best and dismissive at worst: either way, it ties in with problems in his own life. It is, however, given that The Man’s pain is self-inflicted, difficult to sympathise, however frazzled and conflicted he finds himself becoming.

It is suggested to him, by yet another unimaginatively titled character, Male Friend (Silas Carson), that he could come clean and tell The Wife everything. If their relationship is strong enough, it will survive, and whatever is meant to be, is meant to be. Taking that course of action would hardly have resulted in a loss of dramatic tension. But it would be too easy for The Man, who evidently wants to continue to have his cake and eat it. So there’s an infinitely more elaborate plan that, to be blunt, is utterly bonkers.

There’s also a Female Friend (Sakuntala Ramanee): if the play were truly progressive, there would have been a Non-Binary Friend too. Events are set in the past, before the days of answering machines, let alone social media and mobile telephony. One wonders how things would have turned out if proceedings were set in the present day – it would, for instance, be easier for The Girlfriend to get in touch with The Man via text or direct messaging. Then again, The Girlfriend’s threat to tell The Wife herself if The Man doesn’t could transform into a threat to post images online.

As ever with Florian Zeller’s plays, there’s plenty of food for thought. Some of the details in the story may not be entirely feasible, though admittedly they make for good theatre.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

At this turning-point of his life, Pierre finds himself tormented by the conflicting demands of family, career and sexual desire. His struggle to resolve this crisis, without fracturing his marriage or compromising his moral code, is explored in unsettling ways.

Hampstead Theatre would like to invite you to the world premiere of Florian Zeller’s new play, The Forest on Monday 14 February 2022 at 7pm. The Forest is translated by Zeller’s long-time collaborator Christopher Hampton, and directed by Jonathan Kent, who re-unites with Zeller after his critically acclaimed production of The Height of the Storm.

The cast includes Toby Stephens, Gina McKee, Paul McGann and Angel Coulby. They are joined by Millie Brady, Silas Carson, Finbar Lynch, Sakuntala Ramanee and Eddie Toll.

Kent is joined by designer, Anna Fleischle; lighting designer, Hugh Vanstone; sound designer, Isobel Waller-Bridge; casting director, Lotte Hines and associate designer and costume co-designer, Jasmine Swan.

Playwright Florian Zeller
Translator Christopher Hampton
Director Jonathan Kent
Designer Anna Fleischle
Lighting Designer Hugh Vanstone
Sound Designer Isobel Waller-Bridge
Casting Director Lotte Hines
Associate Designer & Costume Co-Designer Jasmine Swan

Cast Millie Brady, Silas Carson, Angel Coulby, Finbar Lynch, Gina McKee, Paul McGann, Sakuntala Ramanee, Toby Stephens, Eddie Toll

Dates: Saturday 5 February – Saturday 12 March 2022


2 thoughts on “Florian Zeller’s The Forest at Hampstead Theatre | Review”

  1. Really? You missed the significance of the stag? You don’t recall the fairy tale the ghoul told?

  2. Great review. It’s certainly a difficult play to get your head around. Regarding the final scene, my take on it was that it was a female deer, meant as a symbolic representation of what one character (I think the daughter?) says earlier in the play about men treating women as prey.

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