The Woods at Southwark Playhouse
What could possibly go wrong on a vacation to a remote cabin in the woods? It sounds like the setup to a horror movie, but The Woods is not that – it’s just a trope in every other way. A better question is who asked for more basic heterosexual representation in the already oversaturated media?
Certainly, Nick (Sam Frenchum) and Ruth (Francesca Carpanini) need this when escaping from the city to the porch of their cabin, where the majority of action happens (not the bedroom). However, when considering their holiday destination, they didn’t take into account spending the entire weekend alone…with each other. The real horror is having to face their own relationship.
Told over the course of one night and the subsequent day, this is hardly a new concept. This is a revival of David Mamet’s 1977 work, which was outdated then. It’s now jumped across the pond, the first British production in 21 years, and it isn’t shocking to see why. The overly simplistic set is a contrived backdrop that almost forces the couple to talk, or not. Ruth talks seemingly endlessly while Nick remains silent. Their differences are only accentuated as the evening progresses.
Although Ruth asks a lot of questions, the one that needs to be asked – why they got together – is never addressed. They don’t even seem to like each other, let alone love, and if they don’t care about the relationship, so why should anyone else? There is nothing even relatable about the characters. More appealing is the fact of the actors and director, Russell Bolam, trying to squeeze the most out of a dry script. Frenchum attempts to give Nick layers as he morphs from passive to active – not, in fact, as predictable as he first seemed – but not all development is good, and it isn’t done well. Meanwhile, Carpanini’s character remains much the same throughout, yet, because of her acting ability, Ruth is afforded the illusion of development.
Metaphors are nestled all too deep in their speeches on the ozone layer and holes and so much nature, but they are archetypal misogynistic stereotypes of women wanting love and men wanting physicality. The creative team could have modernised this and said more about consent – or anything: for a play with a lot of talking, monologues and soliloquies, it doesn’t seem to say a lot. In fact, one could get whiplash from the amount of circles the performance is driven in.
This could have worked well as a satire, especially when the conversation topics turn more abstract. Instead, the play feels as if it lasts a night and more. The only shining star here is Carpanini, who somehow manages to elevate her character beyond the stale script.
Photo: Pamela Raithe
The Woods is at Southwark Playhouse from 24th February until 26th March 2022. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.