Today is going to be different, we are told: a different day in the forest. The lights are dimmed, and the room is soft; crafted foliage and autumnal textures lull us into the mythic lair of the story. The forest keeper, Ivy (Lucy Garland) draws us to her realm. The performance is designed for adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities, and the audience are seated in small clusters around the space. We meet two of the people that happen to have come into the forest today: Rob (Al Watts), a frozen statue from the city; and Thea (Amber Onet Gregory), a wandering poet.
Ivy sings, speaks and also signs: the forest is a place for all of us. The performers communicate with real care and attention, any twee-ness being kept at bay by the luminous warmth of all involved. Ivy and Thea visit each audience member and sing/sign for and with them, weaving each of their names into their song. It is genuinely moving – today’s adventure is certainly one we are all on together.
Thea, in a fit of self-doubt, tears up her scribbled musings and these get scattered around the forest floor, and are also lightly sprinkled over the audience. Rob, coming across one of these shreds, is struck by the words he finds and enters the forest to uncover their creator. Thea’s and Rob’s journeys towards each other provide the path and propel us through the wilds of the unknown, but it’s the unfolding of the forest itself that draws us in.
The performers are keen to make sense and give sense to their story; the forest comes to life in a palette of textures, sounds and smells. As Rob wanders deeper into the cold woods, he collects wood for the fire and offers it to us to smell: smoky, charred and soft. The fire sparks into life. As Thea tastes the fruits of the forest, we are offered apricots and citrus spray is offered to our awaiting taste buds. As the storm builds, the air above us is sprayed with water, and wind is blown into our faces. In the raging skies, Thea ‘s notebook is swept away and Rob’s guitar blown into the wilds, but under Ivy’s control and guiding hands, each collects what the other needs and they are brought together to return these gifts.
Frozen Light tap into theatre’s sensory sphere with care, precision and skill, building both an environment and a narrative with real light and shade. Al Watts’ inventive score gives pulse and purpose to the unfolding story, and the detail of the interactions between performer and audience, and objects and audience, are considered and intricate.
The Forest is a moving journey into the place where we can find – and be accepted – by each other, told by a company of artists who care about the story they are telling, and are equipped with the tools to tell it. It was a different day in the forest indeed.