Writer: Calixto Bieito, based on texts by William Shakespeare
Director: Calixto Bieito
Reviewer: Selwyn Knight
The Public Reviews Rating:
Forests is a co-production between Birmingham Repertory Theatre and Barcelona Internacional Teatre in association with the Royal Shakespeare Company and is part of the Cultural Olympiad. Under its founder, Sir Barry Jackson, Birmingham Rep quickly gained a reputation for presenting the unusual and more challenging, including the first presentation of Shakespeare in modern dress over eighty years ago. This production continues both these noble traditions
Currently Artistic Director of Barcelona Internacional Teatre, Calixto Bieito’s passionate and radical interpretations of classics have stimulated controversy and earned him critical acclaim. He has now reimagined a number of Shakespeare’s recurring ideas, especially around, and set within, Forests. Bieito uses texts from As You Like It’s forest of Arden through to the moving trees of Macbeth’s Birnam Wood and ending in the bare wilderness of King Lear’s cliffs of Dover to produce a visually stunning and thematic piece.
The minimalist set is haunting; plain white, brightly lit and dominated by a large black cube out of which an unearthly tree grows. As we enter, the cast are admiring the view like visitors to an exhibition. However, this refined image is quickly shattered as Maika Kakovski takes centre stage with her guitar, singing lustily. Her songs, played on guitar and piano, act as bridges throughout the play and maintain the atmosphere very well. Themes include the idea of romantic love, played out in a childlike way, and including the old Shakespearean favourite of cross dressing. However, all swiftly becomes darker as the themes turn towards lust, battle and death, and the set itself transmogrifies, becoming ever more chaotic. We are taken on a chilling, often violent and shocking journey through the psyche, all using Shakespeare’s words in both English and Catalan.
The highly experienced cast is made up of a mixture of British and Spanish actors, all of whom, at times, speak both languages. They ensure that action moves seamlessly between themes, with changes to the set and costume effected entirely within the spirit of the theme.
Bieito’s direction and blocking ensure that there is a memorable sequence of visually impactive tableaux, including some disturbing use of nudity. However, the intended symbolism is too often unclear, with an apparent disconnect between some of the elements on stage. The use of subtitles at the side of the stage, necessary for non-Catalan speakers like me, proved also to be something of a distraction. The whole feels overlong and some of the more innovative, dare I say, tricksy, sequences outstay their welcome.
These criticisms apart, this is a worthwhile evening, if a bit heavy-going at times.
Runs until 15 September 2012
Picture: Graeme Braidwood
Tags: As You Like It, Barcelona Internacional Teatre, Birmingham, Birmingham REP, Calixto Bieito, Catalan, Forests, King Lear., Macbeth, Maika Kakovski, Old Rep, Royal Shakespeare Company, William Shakespeare