The Woodsman @ Old Red Lion, London

cast list
Lisa Came, Dominic Coddington, Mark Philip Compton, Richard Ings, Emma Pollard, John Worsey

directed by
Stuart Watson
Ten years after he wrote it, Steven Fechter’s play, receives its European premiere at the Old Red Lion.

If the title of the play rings bells, it’s because Kevin Bacon starred in the weighty film adaptation in 2004.

Because of its subject matter – the sympathetic portrayal of a paedophile – the reactions to the film were varied and at times extreme.

Theatre, however, is a different medium, the historical forum of choice for creatively presenting controversial ideas.

Walter is a married man and father who is led astray by his unlawful desires.
He is caught and sent to prison for twelve years for molesting underage females. His wife moves far away and even his family refuses to see him.

After his release he finds an apartment, opposite a school, a legal distance away, but an awkward location nonetheless. He finds himself watching the children, idly daydreaming about their lives, their parents and a stranger he calls Candy. Candy is watching the children too, but he is looking for a boy.

In his desperate attempts to normalize, Walter gets himself a job, a therapist and even inadvertently stumbles across a love interest named Niki. Through them he can be consoled and console, exorcise his demons and they theirs.

Richard Ings plays Walter, successfully expressing the character’s internal sense of defeat, of an almost futile fight against his instincts. Lisa Came’s Niki is stubborn, determined and forthright. Between them they share and grow but their progress lacks a certain richness and variety. The sense of their intertwined experience and struggle is underdeveloped.

Under director Stuart Watson, the progression of scenes can often feel systematic, like a line up of emotional detonations rather than an organic and fluid piece. An occasional drop in spontaneity and an absence of discovery also disjoints the spirit of the play.

The decision to stage it at Islington’s Old Red Lion Theatre was wise, it is an intimate space and serves the play well. Ben Sanford’s intelligent set, comprised of unraveling rope, is at once symbolic of old ties and spiritual bondage though it occasionally overwhelms the evocative forest backdrop.

Overall, the production does a good job of humanizing the ex-offender, and exploring the strict divide that society, politics and the media insists and imposes upon these loathed members of our communities. It makes one wonder what took so long for Fechter’s play to reach our shores and stages, what inspired it now and why, ten years on, we might receive it so impassively.

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