Forests by Calixto Bieito
Birmingham Old Rep, Station Street
Until 15th September, then touring
Tix: 0121 236 4455
By Richard Lutz
The forest: place of magical refuge or a horrorhouse of nightmares?
Books have been written about this- big tomes looking back at myth and culture. Simon Schama did a great volume called Landcape and Memory which analysed why Britain saw safety in the woods (a la Robin Hood) but central Europeans viewed forests as dangerous hellholes housed with goblins, witches and night terrors (as in a cascade of fables).
Catalan playwright Calixto Bieito grabs the use of woods in Shakespeare’s works and thrusts it down your neck in this addition to the current World Shakespeare Festival. It is lyrical and light when it comes to ‘As You Like It’ and threateningly sadistic and nasty when it heads deep into ‘King Lear’ and ‘Macbeth’- its sexual scenes edge near the borders of abuse and violence at times.
So, this is not a play with a narrative. It is more of a heavyweight theatrical essay using both British and Catalan actors scripted in both English and Catalan dialogue.
At times, as the person sitting next to me said at the end, it was somewhere between Beckett and Hieronymous Bosch …bleak, surreal, stark, difficult to digest.
But whether you like it or not, Bieito, who has attacked Shakespeare before in Macbeth and Cymbeline, doesn’t let you forget you have seen one of his physically overwhelming and disturbing productions. You do bring this play, produced by The Birmingham Rep, home with you- just as an Elizabethan audience must have brought home tongues getting ripped out, eyes gouged and kings bloodily slaughtered.