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  • Henry Longstaff

The Forest - Hampstead Theatre

There is a fine line between memory and the truth


It is not unfair to expect a quality evening of theatre when you have a world premiere from a BAFTA, Olivier, Tony, and Academy Award-winning writer at the helm, and Florian Zeller does not disappoint.

We are presented with a man, Pierre, who is at a crossroads. On one side, he has the demands of his family, his career, the life he has built through twenty-five years of marriage and on the other, he has lust, passion, the feeling of being brought back to life again through his illicit affair. Pierre controls the narrative we experience as he battles with the lies he has repeatedly told himself, yearning for them to be true. This is a play peppered with humour, disgust, parallels and a delightful dose of dramatic irony that genuinely leaves you guessing throughout.

Leading this accomplished cast is Toby Stephens as Pierre (Man 1), a perfect casting choice of a man who is losing control of the story in his head. Stephens is able to flex his range and is exceptional in the most emotionally demanding moments. As his wife, Gina Mckee is outstanding, with the real power of her performance delivered through the words she does not speak. She brings a striking intensity to the role that was incredible to witness. Angel Coulby is very strong in her performance as the girlfriend and Paul McGann and Finbar Lynch both deserve high praise for their work.

To meet the demands of the script, designer Anna Felischle, had the task of creating three different sets across the Hampstead Theatre Stage, each one perfectly naturalistic. The living room is sublime as if lifted from an advert for, the upstairs bedsit is dated yet cosy, and the office is cold and soulless - each one perfect for its purpose, and packed with little details that you might want to keep an eye on as the scenes bleed into one another. Hugh Vanstone’s lighting is superb, effortlessly moving us between natural and more abstract moments in the play. His design subtlety highlights the detail and enables the sets to feel lived in through light flowing doors left ajar. Isobel Waller-Bridge’s sound design is equally impressive, principally, in supporting the heightened darker beats.

It is hard to talk more about this production without spoiling the route the play takes but it is truly a gripping evening of theatre, once again proving the strength of the Florian Zeller and Christopher Hampton combination. This is a first-class production that deserves to be seen and enjoyed by many and it will leave you discussing the meanings and interpretations of the play well beyond the curtain call and the tube ride home.

It runs until 12 March.

Photos: The Other Richard

Originally Published by London Theatre Reviews

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