Review – In a Forest, Dark and Deep, Vaudeville Theatre

Tuesday 3 May 2011

“The truth hurts”, according to Mr Neil LaBute‘s latest grim-fest, In a Forest, Dark and Deep, currently playing at the Vaudeville.

In which case untold agonies shall surely be the fate of Mr Matthew Fox and Miss Olivia Williams upon hearing that showbusiness’s gain has in no way been Pickfords’ loss.

For nigh on 90 minutes these two relatively well-known (and presumably trained) thespians are called upon to pack books (urgently yet) and frankly their stagecraft makes for a most pitiful sight. They could have read all the books in the time it takes them to fanny about putting them into boxes.

It was all the Whingers could do to stop themselves from clambering up onto the stage, snatching the books away and doing it themselves although they would of course have left the heavy lifting to Mr Fox (he of TV’s Lost) who has disconcertingly large arms and could probably shift pianos two at a time if called upon to do so.

But come to that, the Whingers would probably have left the rest of the lifting to Miss Williams not because her arms are particularly large but because she can’t have been any less use carting books around than she was packing them.

Packing books is quite exhausting, even when done ineptly. Particularly for the audience.

Anyway, another truth is that although the Whingers are generally in favour of titular punctuation we must put our feet down quite firmly here: after some consideration and a most serendipitous conversation with numerous school teachers after the show the final verdict was that Mr LaBute’s comma is at best redundant and at worst just plain wrong.

Of course, this being Mr LaBute, the forest of the title is probably not simply the literal forest of the setting, but almost certainly the, err, bushy southern regions of Miss Williams’ Betty who despite being a wine-drinking* middle class liberal arts college dean has a history of sexual promiscuity and was noted at high school for her back-door approach to the physical education of boys.

Her brother Bobby (Fox) is by contrast a blue-collar, beer-drinking, foul-mouth with a strong if selective moral code. Betty has phoned Bobby and asked him to help her pack books (as we may have mentioned) at her forest second-home, an A-frame building quaintly modelled upon the Chocolate Noisette Pate from a tin of Quality Street (the green triangular one) and boasting a fireplace not unlike the hat of the Wizard of Oz’s Tin Man, only orange. Soutra Gilmour‘s set also features a fascinating set of floating stairs which Phil with his terror of heights could not have set foot on even if his life depended on it, and which had Andrew reflecting how much more relaxed building regulations must be in the US.

Anyway, as they (very slowly) pack books and bicker, the truth begins to reveal itself in what Mr Billington rather surprisingly described as a “rollercoaster ride” which we thought was a phrase only used by desperate theatre marketing folk.

It’s not a rollercoaster ride, it’s more like The Mad Hatter’s Teacups for anyone who has been to the theatre more than three times, and the really big reveal at the end was evident at about page 2 when it was reported (SPOILER) that the student renting the house had left in a hurry. However, coming so fast on the heels of the Deathtrap revival it was difficult not to expect a further twist to come into play and rather disappointing when it didn’t (END OF SPOILER).

Anyhow, suffice to say that one of these characters has quite a few secrets and is in the running for the title of Biggest Liar On A West End Stage since Bryony Hannah’s character in The Children’s Hour.

The performances are most creditable. Mr Fox is convincingly objectionable and displays his own extended bushy region (a goatee) with aplomb and Miss Williams (currently on the telly in something called Case Sensitive) copes admirably in a role which demands the actress overlook a veritable Kay’s Catalogue of implausibilities.

But it’s the book-packing that drags it down and the Whingers won’t be employing these two to help them pack up their Enid Blytons if they ever up sticks.

Despite this it’s rather engaging and there are quite a few laughs along the way to ease things along – and some especially agreeable slagging off of U2, noting that Bono has produced nothing of worth since he decided to “feed the world”. Yet Bobby, who turns out to be brighter than he initially appears and finds the New Yorker a bit gay, clearly knows nothing about Broadway: Spider Man: Turn off the Dark doesn’t even get a mention. Talk about an elephant in the room.

If this were a film the poster would carry a warning: “Contains scenes of a mild sexual nature, notions of book-packing, moderate references to Bono and extremely bad language”. You might want to leave your mother at home and see if Gwyneth Paltrow‘s available.

Royal Wedding Footnote

No, of course we weren’t there. We clearly weren’t titled enough, diplomatic enough, hair transplanted enough, Posh enough and definitely not charitable enough to be invited. Let alone possessing the millinery. But Fergie wasn’t asked either, so we were in good company. And given what Beatrice and Eugenie wore it turned out to be for the best as either they or we would have been obliged to go home and change.

So anyway we made do do with William and Kate: The Movie, but what a fine substitute that was, the most laugh-out-loud thing Phil had seen since the Whingers howled through Boom!

But undaunted the Whingers took the quiz to find out what their wedding list names would have been. To play simply take a forename from one of your grandparents, then hyphenate the name of your first pet with the street in which you grew up. This is how it turned out.

Phil: Lord Walter Pinkie-Butts
Andrew: Lord Bernard Musky-Murren

And at considerable personal trouble and expense, we can present these bona fide results from the cast and writer/director of IAF,DAD:

Olivia Williams: Lady Florence Mopsy-Murray
Matthew Fox: Lord Ingersol Charlie-Macalpine
Neil LaBute: Lord Harold Fritz-Liberty

Another Footnote

* Phil bought drinks at the Coal Hole across from the theatre before the show. A pint of ale for himself and a glass of wine for Andrew who was fashionably late arriving. A couple of young men let Phil take one of their seats (and they say youth have no respect for the elderly any more) and – looking at the glass of wine – offered another chair “for your lady.”


2 Responses to “Review – In a Forest, Dark and Deep, Vaudeville Theatre”

  1. Katharine Hikel Says:

    Oh – So one’s royal name is actually one’s stripper name, with grandparent and title appended. Works for me. In fact one’s royal name may actually be an even better stripper name.

    Lady Mary Moriah Silver
    Hinesburg (really) Vermont USA

  2. betsy Says:

    Three glasses? Really? For an hour and a half of misogynistic batshittery? (She’s oh so bad. So so bad. She shags people. Students. And then she ****s them (no spoilers here for those who don’t get it in the first two minutes). And she’s an academic. But she can’t come up with a decent argument to save her life.). He could have just buried Ms Williams up to the neck in sand, and had Mr Fox throw stones at her. The effect would have been similar, without the plot holes.

    Lady Renee Topsy-Somerville

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