Snuff Box Theatre’s world premiere of Weald, written by Daniel Foxsmith, is another new writing highlight for the fabulous Finborough Theatre. It is refreshing to see a play that focuses on the struggle of male emotional communications. These are indeed issues that social media and gender stereotyping are constantly neglecting to acknowledge.
Set in a livery yard in rural England, this play certainly holds a mirror up to humanity. In the intimate Finborough Theatre, you are smack in the middle of honour-ridden and testosterone-filled arguments – and, true to life, it’s the moments in between where the punches truly land.
Samuel, played by David Crellin, is an older, hard-working man. His aspirations have always been to work the land and build something for his family. He keeps horses and he keeps to himself. Crellin’s performance is brave and subtle; his frustration at the younger Jim’s disregard for legacy is understandable and his extreme reactions become explosive in the play.
Jim, played by up-and-comer Dan Parr, is a fiery and anxious young adult trying to make a mark in the world. He believes he is the master of his fate and that history, in a sense, can be ignored. But at his hardest time, he is drawn back home. Parr’s energy and imagination fills the stage with horses and fields and he is a delight to watch.
The history between the two men is clear from their instant connection on stage. Samuel is an undeniable father figure to Jim. Although they are chalk and cheese, Jim respects Samuel; but in the bigger picture, communication and therefore help is shut off between them by their own blinkered manhood.
Directed by Bryony Shanahan, the play is seamless and gracefully artistic. The echoes of harmonious folk songs and perceptive monologues are collaborated perfectly by Snuff Box Theatre Company.
A notable scene is when a wounded horse is being comforted. The actors use the empty stage and caress the outline of the horse; it is very touching and subtly done, so you can visualise the horse lying there. Constantly during the production Shanahan builds up an invisible world on the stage, like a dying horse or cold field, then breaks the atmosphere with an actor ripping through the space or having them methodically wash their hands. This catapults us into the next scene with a new vibrant energy each time.
Ultimately this play undertakes the epic task of telling an emotional story involving two guarded men without being sentimental – and succeeds.
Weald is playing at the Finborough Theatre until 27 February. For more information and tickets, see the Finborough Theatre website.