Starting with a premise as old as any in the world of fairy tales, Forest begins with a little girl waking up in a dark and magical forest. Unfortunately, aside from chatting to some talking animals, not much really happens beyond this point. This is a story that is all about stories; characters collect them, steal them, rejoice in them. However, rather ironically, the play itself is lacking in precisely that one department. A lack of narrative impetus means that the play has about as much steam as a broken kettle.
This is a shame because the performances were often quite good. Andy Lake brings a likeable energy to the stage as Fallow Doe; a naïve and buoyant presence, his performance is a constant charm. Particular credit must also be given to Zoe Biles and Harry Whittaker, whose scenes of not quite domestic bliss were a saving grace for the play. Here was a relationship worth caring about, the feisty Robin wife with the gentle and sweet Red Squirrel husband. These scenes were played with intelligent zeal and it was sad to see them go so quickly. Amy Milton as the young girl, called Little One, is however a bit flat at times. Her transformation at the end is convincing, but before that she really only has two emotions, cutesy and crying.
The writer and director Georgia Leanne Harris, despite the flaws in her script, does however have a gift for poignant dialogue. Tawny Owl’s (Joseph D’Angelo) last scene is full of sorrow and poetic beauty. Left alone and vulnerable he speaks with great dignity about how all things must end, his weary voice and eyes complimenting his final monologue.
However, the main problem is how Harris approaches her theme of stories. At times we were given a few examples of the kind of stories that she had in mind. I thought ‘Fantastic, now we’ll have a forty second verbal vignette that will be either beautiful or chilling or both that will finally inject a bit of atmosphere into the play.’ However, it turns out what was meant by stories was rather just a series of images in which nothing much happens. Much like the play. For instance, without wishing to point out the obvious, the question ‘Can you imagine flying above the stars?’ is not a story. It is a question. Yet for some inexplicable reason the characters seem to think it constitutes a story and they leave it at that.
It also lacked the great threat of true fairy tales. Never did we feel Little One’s life was in danger, nor even that there was anything riding on her safety. There was a sense of lurking menace, but it was never made concrete in the audience’s mind. We never have any solid idea of who or what injured Fallow Doe, or what exactly is so frightening about tomorrow for Little One. This inexorable tendency towards vagueness made it impossible for the audience to bring their own imagination into play, which is absolute suicide in a work that is meant to give the impression of dreams.
All in all Forest, like its characters, seems to be constantly getting itself lost and without much notion of how to get back on the right track.