THE New Forest is an ancient and mysterious place, full of legends, memories and voices. It is a special place and it is different. As the novelist LP Hartley famously wrote at the beginning of The Go-Between, “The past is another country – they do things differently there.”
Karen (Melody Brown) has fled the stresses of London where her boyfriend was randomly murdered by thugs and is trying to make a new life in the New Forest. But she is afraid of everything – particularly the dark, and most particularly being out in the Forest at night.
Finding herself out in a wild storm, she recklessly tries to drive her car through a river in full spate and is rescued from almost certain death by rough diamond Shaun (Tim Treslove), a petty crook whose good heart often gets in the way of his nefarious intentions.
Tim (Lee Rufford) and his girlfriend Hannah (Charlotte Croft) are on their way home from work and turn back when their way is blocked by a Forest pony that refuses to move. Tim’s skilled navigation brings them to the same flooded river.
All four end up in a house next to the river where old Forest native, Pearl (Maggie Tagney), wishes to stay and to die, against her son’s wishes, in the cottage where she was born.
The storm brings these five mismatched people together and changes all their lives – but there is a sixth all-present character, the Forest itself, in Gary Owen’s powerful and poetic play, which has been revived for a new tour by the New Forest’s own theatre company, Forest Forge.
First staged three years ago, to audience and critical acclaim, Free Folk is a play about place, about how a sense of our place can be the strongest force in our lives. It’s about how we need other people and how many different ways there are to discover yourself.
It is hugely enjoyable and compelling, often funny, at times deeply moving and quite thrilling. Disaster lurks in the fast-moving black water and the looming, ghostly shapes in the water-logged woods – but help can come in unlikely forms, lumpy shadows of New Forest ponies that offer a warm refuge, a rogue who isn’t as bad as he wants to be, chance meetings and misunderstandings that turn out well.
Director Kirstie Davis, the artistic director of Forest Forge who commissioned the play, has redirected it for the new tour with a sure hand, and an outstanding cast, including two from the original production, the wonderful Maggie Tagney, with her wry humour and sharp wit, and Tim Treslove, who can convey menace and kindness almost simultaneously with a twitch at the side of his mouth or the corner of an eye.
It feels more intense than it did – but the passage of time, unforeseen changes, the kindness of strangers affect us all and perhaps we see things differently. KN
For details of the full tour, visit www.forestforge.co.uk and for Artsreach dates visit www.artsreach.co.uk