By Graham Michael courtesy of BAC
Mad Forest deals with the overthrow of Romanian Dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu, and its 20-year-old subject matter still has the power to shock. It skirts around the events episodically, with multiple characters and short, sharp scenes, some more successful than others. For example, the play's flights of fancy tell us more about the political situation than any of its naturalistic scenes. A funny, cruel moment between a Transylvanian vampire and dog satirically demonstrates a dog's masochistic need for a master. Other scenes rely on physical theatre. When someone whispers ‘Down with Ceauşescu’ in a queue, silent gestures hint at paranoia, hope, fear and resignation.
Although there is a central storyline of sorts, Mad Forest cracks under the pressure of multiple themes. Caryl Churchill (the playwright, of Top Girls fame) at one point touches on conspiracy theories around the revolution but then sweeps these aside, in favour of melodrama between characters we don’t particularly care about, as we are never left in their company for long enough. We care about their situation, but not about them as people.
Yet these faults are minor and mostly with the play itself. Steinbeis delivers a version that is taut and stirring. The tiny, hot venue spawns intensity: sparely decorated, it feels as claustrophobic and clinical as the regime it depicts. And the entire cast is excellent, with a savage energy. The play’s final moments of song and dance are so wild and heady, that we wouldn’t be surprised if, next time, the audience gets on stage and joins in.
By Sophie Offord
Mad Forest is playing at the Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) until 8 August sy 7.30pm. £10.