Pro’s: A brilliantly constructed set with truly outstanding special effects. The acting was pretty decent too!
Con’s: An ambiguous plot that is often very difficult to follow.
A trip to the Royal Court at Sloane Square is always a treat. I expect plays of fine quality and distinction to live in this place. And so it proved with Robert Alan Evans’ new play The Woods. Climbing upstairs at the Jerwood, I scanned posters from the 50s and 60s. A glorious procession of plays written by the angry young men: John Osborne, Kingsley Amis and Harold Pinter among many others; playwrights who shifted British theatre into a different gear. The set felt authentically rural as wood chippings covered the floor while trees lined the performance area. A bare metal framework marked a cabin revealing a sparse interior.
The story begins with Woman (Lesley Sharpe) finding Boy (Finn Bennett), alone and shivering in the woods. They go back to the cabin and Woman nurtures him as if he was her own child. But she is soon confronted by Wolf (Tom Mothersdale), who claims to be her son; Wolf has a sinister presence and traps Woman in the woods, preventing any attempt of escaping with Boy. However, Wolf has a sense of omnipotence morphing into a police officer, doctor and shop assistant thwarting her bid for freedom.
A complex plot is richly symbolic of a woman trying to escape an abusive relationship. The woods represent a hostile environment and Woman fears her child may be lost forever. However, it’s never entirely certain what metaphor the play settles on. It sometimes felt like a fairytale; but dream sequences also suggested a psychotic episode set against a monochrome landscape. Woman was dressed in a ragged white dress and seemed to have broken free from an institution; yet more ambiguous symbolism. The play constantly throws curve balls at the audience so you never quite relax; its hard work but the rewards are there if you stick with it.
Lesley Sharpe and Tom Mothersdale were absolutely brilliant, mastering a drawling southern states accent to the point of perfection. Their early exchanges were reminiscent of Tennessee Williams as stunning visuals stoked up a charged atmosphere. In spite of the convoluted plotline, this play roars like a Formula 1 racing car with brilliant acting and clean direction from Lucy Morrison. But the real masterstroke is the outstanding visual and sound effects which raise the play to another level.
Author: Robert Alan Evans
Director: Lucy Morrison
Designer: Naomi Dawson
Lighting Designer: Anthony Arblaster
Music & Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons
Producer: Royal Court Theatre
Box Office: 020 7565 5000
Booking Link: https://royalcourttheatre.com/whats-on/woods/
Booking until: 13th October 2018