Lyrical, melodic and beautifully soundtracked, Out of The Forest’s Bury the Hatchet was a joy to behold.
As a general rule, metatheatre makes me squirm. I find it self-conscious, cloying, and quite often very annoying. So how do they do it? How do Out of The Forest Theatre manage to make Bury the Hatchet quite so metatheatrical and yet so funny, political and most importantly, fun?
We open on a nearly empty stage: a few chairs, some instruments promising a soundtrack, paper littering the floor. The costumes are really the only thing that date Bury The Hatchet as we wait for it to start. This is a stripped back performance and the actors have a lot to carry.
They set the scene building a crescendo of music and laughter. It’s an apt introduction to the rest of the performance: enchanting and a little creepy. We’re introduced to all the major plot points from the get-go; Lizzie Borden may or may not have killed her father and stepmother with an axe (sorry, hatchet). The story is told by a myriad of characters played by the three actors, whilst their storytelling personas break out to draw attention to discrepancies in the narrative, questions a jury might come to when deciding her guilt and to draw a well-observed and often very funny self-reflection on the act of storytelling.
Bury the Hatchet seems to be this young company’s first show together but the chemistry between the performers is evidentially strong. The cast bounces off each other, creating laughter amongst the audience as well as themselves. Admittedly they take a few minutes to warm. Initially, things feel slightly contrived. The narrative structure gets a little lost at times and I do also think they play for laughs more than is needed – they should trust their own comic ability a bit more. But all of this is easily, quickly forgiven.
Instruments are played with skill and fill the space with a warm New England atmosphere – no easy feat in an old converted warehouse in Tottenham Hale with the sound of trains rumbling beneath you. The acting is excellent, switching between parts quickly and out of role well enough not to break our sense of narrative. Out Of The Forest also manage to throw in some modern politics, a few nods to feminism and a brief defence of those defamed and smeared by hardline newspapers *cough* Jeremy Corbyn *cough*. Those are their words not mine, but I, and the rest of the audience, definitely appreciate the sentiment.
My main frustration is that I don’t think these industrial venues suit them well: their voices are a little lost at times and I desperately want to see this somewhere with better acoustics and a more intimate seating arrangement. The upstairs space at Soho Theatre, for instance, would suit this show very well. But Bury The Hatchet is beautifully written and sung and a joy to watch. I can’t wait to see where they take it.