An Itinerant actor called 'Gannadiy' decides to visit his rich aunt whom he has not seen for 15 years with the hope of being able to live in comfort for a short while. However, he dare not reveal to his aunt that he is a 'provincial actor', as they were considered quite lowly at this time, so he creates the ruse of having been in the army. But things do not go according to plan, because his wealthy aunt is a scrooge and will not part with anything unless forced. He finds himself caught up in a complex web of greed, forbidden love, treachery and, financial and emotional double-dealing.
This is a long play lasting over 3 hours, and what a joy it is. Time goes by very quickly as one becomes absorbed in the witty dialogue and transfixed by excellent performances from some familiar faces of the London stage.
It is very hard to pick any one actor who stands out from the rest because they are all so good. Frances De La Tour (Three Tall Woman, Wyndham's / Blinded by the Sun, National) as 'Aunt Raisa', a wealthy widowed landowner, produces a strong and powerful presence on stage. Her portrayal of the hypocritical, tight-fisted, selfish aunt who is obsessed by a younger man is engrossing and funny. Her tone of voice is commanding and her gestures are delightful. Michael Feast (Faust 1&2, Barbican) as the compassionate 'Gennadiy', puts in a spirited performance. So too does Michael Williams (Brief Lives, Duchess), who plays ' Arkadiy', the scruffy friend of 'Gennadiy's', who is also an actor. In fact these two make a great double-act, particularly when they are bantering over the values of being a classical actor as opposed to those of a vaudeville actor! There are also some great supporting roles from Frank Windsor as 'Karp', the ignorant butler and, Royce Mills (Don't Dress For Dinner, Duchess Theatre) and Windsor Davies playing 'Raisa's' snotty neighbours.
The set design by William Dudley is effective as it changes with ease from a lounge, to a forest, to a garden.
The show received a mixed response from the popular press. THE EVENING STANDARD said "A glorious swoop of vintage comedy. " THE TIMES says "De la Tour plays Raisa with such wit and force, combining calculation, coquettishness and iciness of spirit, that you find yourself laughing at her, wincing from her, yet believing her horribly real." THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says "Anthony Page's Lyttelton production is ludicriously leisurely for a light entertainment... What saves the evening is the liveliness of Ayckbourn's translation and the excellence of the leading performances. " THE GUARDIAN says, " Ostrovsky's marvellous work has the exuberant madness of the best Russian comedy." THE INDEPENDENT says, "Francis De La Tour is on top form." JANE EDWARDES of TIME OUT says " Anthony Page's scrupulous production never goes so far over the top that it loses touch with the grim existence of those who are dependent on the kindness of others." PETER HEPPLE of THE STAGE says, "This is a play that one feels might have been funnier and sharper." The show received a bad review from THE FINANCIAL TIMES, which by the way I totally disagree with, saying, "None of the performances is quite good enough... "
The Forest is not belly-aching laughter, but it is a pleasant few hours of comedy that is certainly worth seeing.