Florian Zeller's new play The Forest is like looking at broken mirror pieces, it is you, yet the angle is a little bit different in each piece. It follows Pierre, a successful surgeon who's married and the father of a grown-up daughter, as he juggles his professional and family life with having a mistress.
The first inkling you get that he is duplicitous is his reaction to the news that his daughter has caught her partner cheating. He is sympathetic but doesn't think it's that big of a deal.
It's a stark contrast to what unfolds when his own affair threatens to be exposed. Or at least what he fantasises.
I confess that there is a moment in the play when the train jumps tracks, and it nearly left me behind. If you've seen The Father, you know that Zeller can play with timelines, and he does something similar here with the same scenes played out with subtle differences.
However, in The Forest, Zeller also plays with personas and has two different actors play Pierre - Toby Stephens and Paul McGann - and each has a subtly different character.
The result is to leave you guessing what is real and what is in Pierre's head.
In presenting the narrative this way, the play examines the different masks we wear, what we choose to show, what we keep to ourselves and our self-perception.
Whether in Pierre's head or not, there is a rather macabre twist.
The set adds to the narrative - it's actually three sets that make scene changes a matter of flicking lighting switches. However, the boundaries between each get blurred as Pierre struggles to keep his life compartmentalised.
It is a morality tale, a point hammered home by a fable-like tale of a hunter in a forest which is relaid to Pierre by a mysterious yet authoritative man in black whose face is painted chalk white. Is that detail a little bit of overkill? Is the man in black? Perhaps.
There are some details that I would have preferred to have seen explored more such as the daughter's relationship with her partner and the fall out of his affair.
We are left with a fairly damning statement from the partner as to why he cheated. Or is that all in Pierre's head too?
There was a lot that is interesting and to like about The Forest once I got my head around the narrative devices, and it is effective for the most part. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
The Forest, Hampstead Theatre
Written by Florian Zeller
Directed by Jonathan Kent
Running time 1 hour and 25 minutes with no interval
Booking until 12 March - more info and tickets on Hampstead Theatre's website
Pre-performance email reminder about wearing a mask. Another mask reminder on entry plus a temperature check. Final mask reminder in the auditorium and almost complete compliance.