BWW Review: THE WOODS, Royal Court Theatre
Entering the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs at the Royal Court, you're suddenly in a dark, damp forest. Trees are all are around and there's wood chipping, leaves and sticks all over the floor as you make your way to your seats, thanks to Naomi Dawson's innovative and atmospheric design.
Suddenly the lights go out and the room is plunged into total darkness - there's rustling noises but it's hard to tell where they're coming from - the sound of torrential rain echoes all around the room. Lucy Morrison's production is a sensory experience, putting the audience on the back foot from the start.
In Robert Alan Evans' The Woods, a woman (brilliantly played by Lesley Sharp) finds a Boy (Finn Bennett) buried under the snow. She drags him back to her makeshift shack with tarpaulin for walls in order to protect him from the Wolf (Tom Mothersdale) which prowls around outside her home among the trees. It's never fully explained who the wolf is or what he's hunting for. He wants the woman but is constantly telling her to give the boy to him, something she refuses to do - the boy calls her mum now, he's become a son to her.
The play then shifts from America to somewhere in England, where the woman relentlessly carries the boy, who cannot walk, on some old tarpaulin. She's mocked and abused by young a group of youths in a playground, all the while doing her best to protect the vulnerable boy she's dragging behind her.
Sharp is magnificent as the guilt-ridden mother, ruthlessly tormented by the wolf - his loaded and powerful speeches are filled with heavy meaning transform her into a cowering wreck. It's harrowing and often difficult to watch - he calls her his mother, constantly telling her that she's trapped forever in these woods. When she does eventually leave, he puts on numerous different disguises, becoming a police officer, shop assistant and a doctor (something that Mothersdale takes on with relish).
The acting is outstanding, but the production is let down by the play itself - it can be frustrating at times. The sound design by Tom Gibbons adds a haunting element - from the rain hammering down, to the whistling of the wind and movement of the branches, to the faint sound of music that plays as the audience enters the room. Combined with the set from Dawson, The Woods makes for a terrifying, but ultimately underwhelming production.
The Woods at the Royal Court until 20 October.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan