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Woods (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: The Woods

Society: Southwark Playhouse

Venue: Southwark Playhouse. 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

Credits: By David Mamet. Presented by Danielle Tarento.


The Woods

3 stars

All photos: Pamela Raith Photography

Don’t go to this show for light entertainment or  – heaven forfend – many laughs. David Mamet’s rather laboured 1977 play is seriously, very seriously, intense.

Nick’s family have a holiday home in remote, rural Michigan. He has invited his girlfriend, Ruth, to spend some time there with him. But all is not as well as it initially seems. He is searching for lasting meaning in life in a country whose icons tend to be shortlived. She is intrigued by the romance of the vast countryside and questions everything.  In different ways both are searching for a narrative anchor. The sexual chemistry between them is powerful but brittle. Ninety minutes (no interval) later each is broken, in every sense, but may – just possibly – now be able to continue their respective stories together.

Francesca Carpanini and Sam Frenchum both turn out good performances. Carpanini endows Ruth with cheerful, intelligent innocence seasoned with strength and Frenchum’s Nick has plenty of troubled, sometimes appalled, decency.

Director Russell Bolam has made imaginative use of the square, in-the-round, playing space so that sometimes the actors are within arm’s length of the audience and it all feels very immediate as we ricochet, sometimes exhaustingly, from passion to anger to insouciance to speculativeness.

Andrew Lamble’s simple set gives us a spacious upstage back porch with an outdoor sofa and suggests that the rest of the space is the land beyond the house. Bethany Gupwell’s lighting subtly suggests changing times of day and a rather good storm with lightning, which rakes up the tension.

A shout out too to Haruka Kuroda, fight and intimacy coordinator. There’s some pretty graphic sex in this play which is quite hard to do convincingly when your audience is so close. Kuroda has done a fine job with these two actors who really do seem to be doing a lot of invasive touching – it’s interesting acting. And the scenes in which they actually attack each other manage to horrify, even as another part of your brain is wondering how long they had to rehearse it for.

So yes, it’s a decent piece of theatre with plenty to commend it but the exhausting, insular navel-gazing grates in 2022 and I wasn’t sorry when it was over.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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