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Only a fool would to try to summarise this extraordinary new play. Only a fool would turn down the chance to see it. Four hours that never flag. An exhilarated audience sore-handed after the long-standing ovation.

The play has the sweep and internal resonance of a symphony, entwining a quest for identity across generations, continents and a backdrop of Franco- German rupture and reconciliation. It’s the third time that the Lebanese author and director Wajdi Mouawad, newly appointed artistic director of Canada’s National Arts Centre French Theatre, has delved into personal heritage, following on from Coast and Fire. The “forests” of the title are the dense alleys of memory tangled in world history, from first world war desertion to the fall of the Berlin wall.

Circling themes of love, rejection and self-sacrifice run through this intricate unravelling of secrets that weigh down successive generations of mothers and daughters. At the heart lies Loup, a damaged teenager who can come fully alive only by resolving these enigmas. She starts with her mother, dead from a brain tumour caused by an unborn twin ossified within her skull. Another skull, whose missing fragment underpins the play’s mystery, leads Loup on in moving complicity with a paleontologist.

Mouawad-the-writer puts imaginative flesh on the skeletons in our human closets, and illuminates the terrifying potential of the family to destroy or redeem, and the hopelessness of seeking an isolated paradise to escape from collective memory. The emotional compass is vast and often very funny.

Occasionally the text gets bogged down in its tragic accumulations, but this is nitpicking compared with its sheer ambition, originality and humanity.

Mouawad-the-director breathes life into these psychological shadows with wit, creativity and clever split staging. The audience watching an operation is simultaneously transported inside the human brain. Three different childbirths in different generations fuse together with elegance and compassion.

The brutality of the 20th century is condensed in a single hammer blow. The actors are earthy, lucid, tightly knit. Marie-Eve Perron (Loup) and Linda Laplante (mother) are simply compelling.

Forêts shifts boundaries, and reminds you why theatre matters. It goes home to Canada in 2007. See it.

Tel +33 1 55 48 91 00

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