Florian Zeller gets us lost in The Forest
”I’m listening. Do you always tell the truth?”
Man in Black
In the opening scene two people, Man 1 (Toby Stephens) and The Wife (Gina McKee) discuss their daughter (Millie Brady)’s distress at finding out her husband has been unfaithful for a year with another women. The second scene sees Man 2 (Paul McGann) in bed with The Girlfriend (Angel Coulby) and their conversation makes it clear that he is having an affair with her and that he is married.
Florian Zeller likes playing games with his audience. The Forest is the third play about marital infidelity. The first two, The Truth and The Lie showed at the Menier Chocolate factory a few years back. Zeller is better known for his series of plays on family members, The Father most prominently about a man with Alzheimers from the inside looking out, recently filmed starring Antony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman. His play The Height of the Storm took the English cast to Broadway. The film of The Son has just been completed.
The Forest is enigmatic. Paul McGann and Toby Stephens play the same man, Pierre, married to The Wife, Laurence, Gina McKee and having a long term affair with The Girlfriend, Angel Coulby. I couldn’t discern any sway of character between the two nor any change of emphasis according to who played whom. Both men declare how beautiful the girlfriend is and how much they feel for her but get edgy when she suggests any living arrangement more permanent that his visits to her apartment.
The insecurity in turn results in the girlfriend changing her behaviour and telephoning him at home, where the Wife answers, and then hanging up. Pierre visits a strange man, Man in Black (Finbar Lynch in bizarre white face and dark eye makeup) who could be a psychiatrist. The Man in Black relates the tale of The Forest where a hunter chases after a white stag, thinks he has caught up with it, several times, but never does. Is this some kind of metaphor for man’s desire for sexual conquest which is never fulfilling?
Along the way we see as we do in the infidelity plays, deceit and lies and long suffering or blind wives and girlfriends. The cast are superb, Toby Stephens shows ambivalence “cake and eat it” style and Paul McGann dressed alike looks and behaves believably as if he is the same man. Gina McKee appears to be a broken woman showing care and concern for her husband. Angel Coulby as the Girlfriend racks up to boiling point.
Anna Fleischle’s cleverly compartmentalised, three part set divides off the Man’s Home, Office and Girlfriend’s Bedroom. The bedroom is staged above the home with the office to one side. In later scenes the home fills up with flowers that keep arriving but I’m not sure that anyone knows why? Jonathan Kent directs this open ended play allowing the ambiguity to dominate.
I think it is sad that the women in this play allow their life to be defined by their relationship with a man. The final scene cannot be revealed as it is too much of a spoiler but you will be debating the meaning of it in relation to what has gone before.
Written by Florian Zeller
Translated by Christopher Hampton
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Director: Jonathan Kent
Designer: Anna Fleischle
Lighting Designer: Hugh Vanstone
Sound Designer: Isobel Waller-Bridge
Running Time: One hour 20 minutes without an interval
Booking to 12th March 2022
London NW3 3EU
Phone: 020 7722 9301
Tube: Swiss Cottage
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge at
on 14th February 2022