Seven Sisters Group, Clore Studio Upstairs, Royal Opera House, London

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The Independent Culture

Inspired in fairy tales, The Forbidden challenges you to travel through the forbidden paths and recesses of the mind and confront your childhood terrors. Enter the magical world created by the Seven Sisters Group (the set designer Ed King has transformed the Clore Studio out of all recognition), and you lose yourself in a disorienting labyrinth of dark winding corridors and chambers formed by walls of stiffened jute. Dead leaves lie on the floor; wintry twigs stretch overhead. And as you walk about – this is a promenade performance – you come across strange events and feral humans with matted hair, soil-streaked faces and a very peculiar taste in clothes.

They brush past you, perhaps even accidentally collide with you, and sometimes invite you into their lairs. One of these has feathers and dead birds handing on strings and a small wicker-basket that reminds you of Little Red Riding Hood. Its owner, a woman as mad as a witch, welcomes guests to sit and listen to stories, whose disturbing themes and mantra-like phrases stir memories of bedtime readings.

Being of a slightly nervous disposition, I lurked behind fellow critics, but that didn't protect me from one scary man who touched my hair, or from another who offered me a chocolate. (On the off-chance that it was poisoned, I thought it best to refuse.) Even scarier was the woman who carried a large butcher's knife, while another, with tied ankles and a tale about a wolfishly hairy man, was just plain weird.

Directed by Susanne Thomas and devised with the seven performers, the show conceals a tight organisation under its apparent desultoriness. You decide where to go, but you're guided by the way the action migrates from one area to another. Also clever is the dramatic effect of using echo – as incidents unroll in one location, so neighbouring voices murmur, and bodies rustle in sympathy. Bestial coupling erupts in one lair and then spreads elsewhere. Meanwhile, we all stand and watch – giving true meaning to the word voyeurism – our faces framed in the windows and slits of the fabric walls.

The weakest ingredient is the choreography. The twitchy convulsions and an aerial sequence, performed dangling from a sling quickly outlive their interest. But dance is almost subsidiary to this multimedia, interactive production. The same group's Salomé a few years back offered an entertaining and unsettling entry into a dislocated state of being, and so does this. Like all fairy tales, it gives concrete form to your fear of primitive nature, where moral codes break down and unruly instinct takes over. You may think you're pretty wild, but this is even wilder.

Nadine Meisner


To 15 Sept, two performances daily (020-7304 4000)