Winterfall Theatre has a well-deserved reputation as an independent company that delivers high-quality, edgy, interesting theatre. Sadly, though, Winterfall missed the mark with their most recent production – In a Forest, Dark and Deep.

The play takes place in a single room in a small apartment. Betty has asked her brother, Bobby, to help her pack up the flat so new tenants can move in. There’s a thunderstorm outside (and, seriously, LaBute needs to give the ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ thing a rest…we get it), and it becomes increasingly clear that brother and sister have a few things to sort out.

Playwright Neil LaBute, is not the theatre world’s most-loved writer. He is often described as a misogynist, and I have to say after seeing (and thinking for days) about In a Forest, Dark and Deep, I’m having a hard time giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Here is the rhythm of the play: Betty tells a lie, Bobby works out Betty is telling a lie, Bobby presses her to tell the truth, Betty tells the half-truth, Bobby presses her some more and some more until he is yelling at her, or threatening violence, or has her cowering in a corner, until finally she caves and blurts out the truth. This pattern goes on for almost two hours. With no interval. The problem here is that Betty is the bad guy and Bobby is the good guy, with no variation or depth, and a lot of repetition. Worse still, the crux of Betty’s badness rests on her sexual promiscuity – I won’t get into the slut-shaming argument, because it’s not worth it, but rest assured it was most definitely there.

The actors, Michele Williams (Betty) and Christopher Connelly (Bobby) obviously know what they’re doing – they each have an impressive bio and strong abilities, but neither of them managed to reach any depth or sense of understanding with their characters. There were glimmers of connection which, when they happened, were lovely. Similarly, there were moments in both actors’ performances – particularly when they were listening to the other one speak – when they each seemed to crack through the veneer and get to the real guts of the character. But these moments were fleeting, and sadly it wasn’t enough to make this two-hander riveting.

There were likewise fleeting moments when the direction was well-executed, but it mostly seemed heavy-handed and unplanned. There were moments – such as brother and sister playing air-guitar together – that could have been used to either show the siblings’ genuine affection for one another, or show the deep crevasse that could never be mended, not even with music. Instead what came out was awkward, faux-joyful dancing that gave no hints to the characters’ relationship or to the undercurrents of the play itself.

Design by Ashlee Hughes was well-executed, with the set delivering a great claustrophobic, confused yet homey vibe. Lighting from Nick Merrylees was a little clumsy (particularly when simulating lightning), but this may have been a limitation on equipment. Special thanks to Front-of-House Janaya Vincent who greeted everyone at the door and made the audience feel at home. 

I wouldn’t recommend In a Forest, Dark and Deep, but I would recommend Winterfall Theatre – there is promise there, and talent and a great vibe. The company is doing good things, and deserves an audience. Watch this space.

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