Caryl Churchill's play Mad Forest is a response to events in Romania following the overthrow of Nicolae Ceaușescu in December 1989. It presents a kaleidoscopic and often surreal look at life under oppression and the painful difficulties of lasting change. It was first staged by students at the Central School of Speech and Drama, London, on 25 June 1990. It was subsequently performed at the National Theatre, Bucharest, from 17 September, and opened at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 9 October 1990.
In early 1990, Churchill was asked by Mark Wing-Davey, director of the Central School of Speech and Drama, if she would like to join his students on a trip to Bucharest, to work with students there and then to write a play for the Central students' end of year show. Ceaușescu’s dictatorship had been overthrown only a few months before and, as Churchill writes in her introduction to Plays: Three (Nick Hern Books, 1998), 'Emotions in Bucharest were still raw and the Romanian students and other people we met helped us to understand what Romania had been like under Ceaușescu as well as what happened in December and what was happening while we were there.'
The play focuses on the reactions of ordinary people to the sudden and dramatic events that unfolded in late December 1989, focusing in particular on two families, the Vladu family and the Antonescu family. Part I tells the story of Lucia Vladu’s engagement and wedding to an American, which arouses the suspicions of the Securitate (Romania’s secret police). Part II features testimony from a host of Romanian citizens (none of whom have appeared in Part I), about their experiences of the revolution. Part III begins with a dialogue between a vampire and a dog before reintroducing several characters from Part I, now in a hospital having sustained injuries in the fray. They discuss the nature and the impact of the revolution.
The play's premiere at the Central School of Speech and Drama was directed by Mark Wing-Davey and designed by Antony McDonald, and performed by final-year students from the drama school. It was subsequently performed by the same cast at the National Theatre in Bucharest and at the Royal Court Theatre in London.