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The Rep College - Mad Forest

20th to 22nd March 2003, at New Greenham Arts.

This was the Newbury News review.

Unmistakable parallels

The Rep College: Mad Forest,  at New Greenham Arts, from Thursday, March 20 to Saturday, March 22

Fighting breaks out in the streets, innocent civilians are killed, and a ruthless and corrupt dictator is overthrown. This was Mad Forest, Caryl Churchill's play about the Romanian revolution of 1989, but the relevance of it to Iraq was impossible to miss.

The play looks at the events in Romania during and after the overthrow of Ceausescu and their effects on the lives of two ordinary families. On a plain set and uniformly dressed in blue boiler suits, the large cast from The Rep College gave a vivid representation of how lives, lived in fear of stepping out of line and being discovered by the Securitate, were changed for ever and not always for better by the new-found freedom.

It was structured into a large number of scenes, each introduced by an appropriate phrase, in Romanian and English, from a phrase book. Even the very short scenes had a powerful effect: in one, titled "We are buying meat", a long queue of people looks bored and dejected. A man summons the courage to whisper "Down with Ceausescu!", and the queue turns into little huddles of people, showing guilt, approval, fear.

This was the first Rep College production I had seen, and I was most impressed with the high standard of the acting from the whole company. The cast was too big to mention them all, but I particularly liked John Giles as Mihai, Barbara King as the manic mental patient and Juliette Lawrence in a variety of parts, but especially haunting as the orphan Toma.

Following the elation of the revolution, doubts crept in fuelled by rumours of a conspiracy, and the families' growing anger and confusion brought back their xenophobia for Hungarians and gypsies. But worse than this was the realisation of the effects of their repression - the anguish brilliantly shown by Emma Hartley as the teacher trying to come to terms with the fact that for 20 years she had been the unquestioning mouthpiece for party propaganda.

Churchill is one of Britain's foremost playwrights, and although some people consider her plays surreal and inaccessible, it is a shame that on the Thursday night this talented company had a total audience of just five.