Review: Forest at Assembly Check Point

Like a bagpipe for the voice, there’s something uniquely haunting about the harmonies in Russian folk song. Those eerie bellows are heard at their most mournful and ecstatic in this phenomenal piece of physical theatre. Forest is an ambitious production. It promises to explore “the eternal relationship between humanity and nature” through song, dance, and projections. Bold claims more than met by these fourteen graduates from the prestigious Moscow Art Theatre School; seven men and seven women rigorously trained in the art of play. 

They twitch, slide, stare, stroke, lift, and collapse in movements of unbelievable precision and creativity. With a furious pagan ardour, they express both an intimacy with and alienation from the natural world. Grainy stock footage plays of forests being felled as part of Soviet industrialisation. Wooden stumps, logs, and tricks provide the set. Barefoot in white robes, the troupe stare out with scorching eyes. It is an image of beauty. 

They move collectively – as a group or in pairs – like a shoal of fish. First curious like woodland creatures, then enraged like a force of nature, then drowning, then singing in call and response. They use not only their arms, torsos, and legs to communicate, but also speak with their necks, fingers, throats, and noses. Hair is wonderfully expressive; grabbed, dropped, and flicked. All movement blossoming with exceptional intricacy. 

Forest shows the true heights that can be achieved with a dedicated commitment to physical expression. These intense and disciplined graduates have the world at their fingertips. Here, with elegance and control, they marshal a vast wealth of movements to cry out against the destruction of the natural world, and for greater intimacy with it. In an age of climate crisis, the issues they’re exploring are increasingly universal. This is a rare and powerful performance that deserves to be witnessed by all. 

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