Last night was a special preview of the new Neil LaBute play In a Forest, Dark and Deep, and thanks to the fantastic guys and gals at www.whatsonstage.com, we were treated to a fascinating Q&A. Read on to discover which Very Important Lostie was sitting in the audience!
The two-hander, at London’s Vaudeville theatre, marks the UK stage debut of Lost star Matthew Fox. After six years as the heroic and flawed Dr. Jack Shephard on The Greatest TV Show Of All Time, once the series ended last May, he picked LaBute’s newest work for his first post-Lost job. After dabbling in theatre in his youth, Fox carved a career in long-running TV shows (including Party of Five), with his Lost commitment limiting him to small movie roles in the likes of Speedracer and Vantage Point.
In a Forest teams him with British star Olivia Williams, playing an American brother and sister with a frosty, complicated relationship. When Betty asks Bobby to help her move her last tenant’s possessions out of the forest lodge she rents out, it becomes an evening of explosive bickering and revelations.
I’m no theatre reviewer, but Fox is extraordinary against experienced stage actress Williams. Raw, natural, and entirely confident with LaBute’s acid dialogue, he spits venom and copious amounts of very rude words as the complex and proud Bobby. Having spent six years watching him play one character, it can safely be said that Fox has range - at no point are you watching Jack Shephard. As always for a LaBute production, it’s uncomfortable watching - as one character utters, the truth hurts.
As a huge Lost fan, seeing Fox onstage would’ve been enough for one night. However, there was a familiar spectacled chap with a beanie hat sitting three rows in front of us. We knew Lost creator, showrunner and writer Damon Lindelof was in London (thanks Twitter), but our Lost-loving posse couldn’t quite believe the great man was in front of us. All doubt went out the window when Lindelof himself bounded to the front of the stage to greet Fox after the Q&A. As Benjamin Linus once said: ‘I think the term you’re looking for is shock and awe.’
Being the shit reporter I am, did I take this opportunity to corner Lindelof and ask him about his Prometheus and Star Trek 2 scripts? No, I took the time to have a nervous breakdown, declare my undying devotion to Lost and get tips for my upcoming pilgrimage to Hawaii and let him know about my awesome Lost finale party. Sorry. He then graciously posed for probably his first hysterical fangirl photo in the UK as I completely ignored Matthew behind him. Priorities! Even though Fox has implied there was some friction on Lost towards the end, it didn’t extend to the show’s creator, as the two were going out for dinner following the play. Aw.
DIY Film contributor (and devoted metal fan) Christa Ktorides had more luck collaring LaBute about the music used in the play, which was a rock lover’s dream. The sedate crowd were treated to the likes of Hole even before they took their seats, LaBute admitted he chose all the tracks on the playlist, and loves them all - including a controversial Metallica choice, Frantic, from their maligned St. Anger album. During the play itself, there was nothing more awesome than seeing Williams and a Nirvana tee-wearing Fox playing air guitar and chest bumping to Pearl Jam’s Animal.
Before then, we were treated to a meaty 45-minute talk on this particular night. Fox and Williams relaxed on the set sofa, wine in hand (red for Matthew, white for Olivia), while LaBute entertained us with shit Dick Van Dyke impressions whilst sipping on a Coke.
Still in previews, and before press night, the charming and funny Williams was relieved by the acclaim her American accent was receiving: ‘It’s a really important vote of confidence. To be on stage with an American, there’s evidence of how it should be, and he’s my brother, so I can’t say I’m from somewhere else!’
Fox revealed why he chose LaBute for his big theatre debut: ‘I knew of his film work, and I knew of his reputation as a playwright. I knew he was provocative and uncomfortable. I read the script to it last May, and was drawn to it immediately. I thought it would be a huge challenge. I’m always looking for challenges in my life, which is why I wanted to be a part of it - no matter how difficult some of it would be. I’ve been away from my family for six weeks now, but they’re coming on Saturday! We broke a rule - we never spend more than two weeks away from each other. I felt compelled to do it though.’
Williams: ‘I’m a huge fan of Neil’s work, the films and the stage plays, and the screenplays I’ve read in a slightly creepy, stalkerish way! I wanted to be in a film he directed, he alleges he cast me and I wasn’t available… we haven’t quite sorted that out! [laughs] So when this came up I was extremely happy.’
Neil spoke of the thrill of seeing these two actors’ intensity every night: ‘What they gave tonight, they give in film, but someone picks it to pieces and makes very capricious choices [in editing]. To know that for 90 minutes we are in control of this piece. It’s an exciting process to watch.’
As the production is still in previews, Fox revealed that the script isn’t locked down yet, but should be over the next couple of days. Williams admitted: ‘I’ve been playing fast and loose with Neil’s extraordinary text, as it’s incredible hard to learn. He’s been very open to the accidental, and intentional, tweaks I’ve made. It sounds like regular speech, but it’s highly constructed, and if you miss an um, or an ah, it changes it. We cut a load out. Matthew’s been extraordinarily gracious to have his hard-learned dialogue slashed!’ Continuing, Fox added: ‘We’ve been changing it right up until this performance. It feels rhythmic and organic. Neil’s been very accommodating during the previews, as we’ve gotten to feel the audience. We tighten it a little bit - it’s not a matter of taking stuff out, it’s making the performance feel like it’s moving forward.’
Fox was asked what it was like getting immediate reception after years on television. ‘Fantastic. Even the parts where I’m alienating the audience. Neil and I talked about that early on, about how obnoxious Bobby is - he’s an asshole, and that we can bring the audience back. It’s always been a big question mark for me, as I haven’t done a ton of theatre. When you work in film it’s such a tight bubble, and you’re working only with people that you know. Here I get to feel the audience, their laughter and repulsion. It feels amazing, and I’m really enjoying it.’
Finally, LaBute addressed the fact that he never makes a remotely happy and idyllic piece of work. ‘Drama comes from conflict. Well-adjusted couples equals a shit play. I’m looking for the crack, the spot where people divide. I’m looking for trouble. Like David Lynch - I don’t love every piece, but I appreciate the work. Everything he does is provocative. He did The Straight Story, and when I heard he was doing a G-rated Disney movie, I thought: that’s a provocative idea! I fucking loved that movie, I wish I’d done it!’
Funnily enough, as when watching last year’s play In a Dark Dark House (featuring David Morrissey as another dysfunctional sibling), it’s hard to believe this man was responsible for that Wicker Man remake and the abomination that was Death at a Funeral. All is forgiven. Luckily, the audience was under strict instructions to only ask about the play, so there was no chance for him to explain himself.
And after already giving us so much of their time, Williams, Fox and LaBute hung around to sign for and chat to everyone that wanted to speak to them, while Lindelof graciously allowed himself to be cornered by us rabid Lost obsessives. Epic night - thanks What’s On Stage!
Photos below of the talk.