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A CurtainUp London London Review
In a Forest, Dark and Deep

Truth hurts. It stings like a bitch. — Bobby quoting his father
In a Forest, Dark and Deep
Matthew Fox as Bobby and Olivia Williams as Betty (Photo: Alastair Muir)
Neil LaBute's plays are fiendishly difficult to review because of the twists of the plot that no reviewer wants to reveal ahead of the audience seeing the play. Matthew Fox star of the television series Lost comes to the London stage for the first time to star alongside British actress Olivia Williams as brother and sister, Bobby and Betty. Sounding like a pair from a children's storybook, they are anything but. They may be siblings but that is where the similarities end. Betty is a college lecturer, married with two children. Bobby works as a carpenter but lectures her and is full of backwoodsman prejudice as he labels a man who reads the New Yorker magazine as ‘gay’. But of course this is a LaBute play and not all is as it seems.

Set in a isolated house in the woods, Betty has asked Bobby to help her clear and pack up the books from a previous tenant. As they pack, they talk about their upbringing and the strong father figure who influenced them both. Slowly Bobby's take on Betty's sexual activity is revealed as he harangues her with his illiberal views on personal and sexual morality.

It is shocking to see Matthew Fox in this pugnacious role after he is so well known to British audiences as the likeable Dr Jack Shephard in Lost or even earlier for his role in Party of Five. Fox, with an Edwardian beard, is convincing and unafraid to delve into the nastier aspects of his character as he rages, resenting his sister's salary, success and lifestyle. Olivia Williams is a very fine actress. Her accent is good and steady and her character sufficiently elusive and deceptive to keep us guessing about LaBute's denouement. Initially what we take for unease on Williams's part is the difficulty for an actor of conveying, or rather hinting at, deception. They dance together to rock music by the band Pearl Jam in a rare moment of real and shared connection.

Soutra Gilmour's realistic cabin set on two floors is stuffed full of detail and has a wood burning stove and piles of books everywhere, under chairs and on every ledge and table. An electric storm with realistic thunder and lightning wipes out the electricity every so often and plunges the house into darkness. LaBute himself directs and I fully endorse his twin roles as writer and director.

Whilst In a Forest, Dark and Deep is not as complex, as intricate or as peopled as some of LaBute's other work, it is visceral and like all his plays one which engages you intellectually long after curtain down. There is no doubt that LaBute enjoys shaking an audience out of complacency. We know his plays will be a bumpy ride but the journey will be worthwhile although we may not like what we find at our destination, we know it will have an uncomfortable truth in it.

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In a Forest, Dark and Deep
Written and directed by Neil LaBute

Starring: Matthew Fox, Olivia Williams
Design: Soutra Gilmour
Lighting: Mark Henderson
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Running time: One hour 45 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 0844 412 4663
Booking to 4th June 2011
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th March 2011 performance at the Vaudeville, Strand, London WC2R 0NH (Tube: Charing Cross)

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