The Woods by David Mamet. Southwark Playhouse, 77 Newington Causeway, London SE1 to 26 March 2022. 4****. William Russell

When a play is being revived here for the first time since 1977 one does wonder why. David Mamet is a considerable dramatist, it is a two hander so not too costly to stage, and it is a powerful tale about a weekend in the country which goes disastrously wrong for Ruth, who thinks she has found love, and Nick who has demons of his own to exorcise. Directed by Russell Bolam it has impressive performances from Francesca Carpanini as the deluded Ruth and Sam Frenchum as the homicidal Nick. The roles demand intense physical and sexual activity as Sam attempts to rape and then kill her – she fights back with equal force and the fight and intimacy co-ordinator Haruka Kuroda has clearly had a great deal to do. The set is handsome and the on the surface romantic weekend deteriorates grippingly enough so that one does wait wondering who will survive but whether one cares is another matter. It is all full of symbolism – the woods in classical myth are the place where all sorts of monsters lived and strange things happen and Nick has found the family cabin and time spent there as forming a world in which he expects to find something – possibly love. These woods are in Michigan by a lake, the weather is poor and Ruth’s relentless chirpiness does start to wear thin. They drink too much, and then they start to fight. Carpanini and Frenchum are extremely good, she catches all the irritating mannerisms of a woman unsure of just what this is going to lead to but who has come equipped with what amounts to a making it official present while he gradually disintegrates as the ghosts of things from past times spent there overwhelm him and his terror of commitment takes over. For Mamet fans it is obviously one to collect which is not to say that it is a good play with a message about damaged people and how they behave – it left me feeling little more than one should beware the weekend in the country in a cottage for two until you know more about who you are going with than Ruth unfortunately did. She escapes with her life but this is not a relationship that is going anywhere even if Nick, really too much of a hunk with a hunk’s mentality, who has been full of doubts, thinks it will in spite of having tried to kill her.The bickering which falls into three sections comes to a rather unsatisfactory end. Stars are always a devil to decide on and because the players are so good and the production is also good it is going to get four but when you get down to the play count me out. Half that would be about right.

Ruth: Francesca Carpanini.
Nick: Sam Frenchum.

Director: Russell Bolam.
Set & Costume Design: Anthony Lambie.
Lighting Designer: ethany Gupwell.
Sound Consultant: Ali Taie.
Fight & Intimnacy Co-ordinator: Haruka Kuroda
Production photographs: Pamela Raith.

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