Wood lost in a forest of trees

Forests

Old Rep

*

Watching a man in a dress with a bucket on his head climbing up and down a wall, it is surely fair for a reviewer, or theatre-goer for that matter, to ask themselves ‘just what is the director trying to say to me here?'

The problem is that after the 100 agonisingly slow minutes of Calixto Bieito's Forests I was still no clearer as to the answer.

Inspired by Shakespeare's frequent use of forests as a backdrop, symbol, secret hiding place, location for transformation and even as part of the plot, Bieito has put together this mishmash of a production.

Staged at Birmingham's Old Rep and largely set to Shakespeare's verse, it is as impenetrable as the forests it inhabits. Sure it starts with an innocent looking wood in which lots of people run around happy as Larry. Then the forest is literally ripped apart and the innocence is replaced by darkness but beyond that all is a tired confusion.

It is as though, without any clear narrative pattern, Bieito has thrown just about every idea he possibly could into the mix. So we have nudity, we have rape, we have lesbianism, we have cross-dressing, we have suicide, we have suffocation, we have masturbation, we have self-harming, we have murder . . . need I go on?

Bieito read all of The Bard's works before creating Forests and the production does have a little of the ‘Complete Works of Shakespeare in 100 Minutes' about it. There is no doubt that many of these subjects appear graphically in Shakespeare's texts. But Bieito offers no exploration of the ideas either within Shakespeare's works or in a new context.

FRENZIED

 With one supposedly shocking scene chasing the other in a frenzied dash around the stage, Forests quickly becomes tedious and frankly unpleasant at times.

The difficulty, if you will excuse the pun, is that we can't see the wood for the trees. With so much going on we lose any sense of purpose, plot or characterisation.

There is no doubt Bieito knows his Bard and can be clever with the verse – juxtaposing characters and plays in an intricate interplay of verse. And there is a level of entertainment in playing ‘spot the quote' with yourself as each line unfolds.

The cast, which includes George Costigan, certainly rise to the challenges of the piece and give enthusiastic performances while the set, a single tree set into a giant white box, is captivating in its apparent simplicity.

But what is particularly frustrating about Forests is a sense of missed opportunity. Bringing together Bieito with Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Barcelona Internacional Teatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of the World Shakespeare Festival, it could have been a really insightful and entertaining exploration of The Bard's use of the forest motif.

Instead this crass and dull foray into the woods adds nothing to our understanding of Shakespeare nor does it create a new work which is anything more than a talking point. To 15-09-12

Diane Parkes 

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