This review was originally written for West End Frame
What does it mean to “be a man” nowadays? That is the question that playwright Daniel Foxsmith claims sits at the heart of Weald, his new two-hander about responsibility, legacy, and horses. Produced by Snuff Box at Chelsea’s Finborough Theatre, it is an earthy, unflashy 75-minute rumination on what we owe to the past, what we ow to the future, and what we owe to each other.
David Crellin is Sam, an ageing, reclusive stable-yard owner in an unspecified village in Northern England. He is a man tied to the landscape around him and content to live life slowly and simply. The bare stage around him evaporates and one can picture him sloping around his yard in all weather, feed bucket, flat-cap and all, quoting Cromwell as he goes. Dan Parr is Jim, Sam’s erstwhile apprentice, returned after a six-year absence to find everything exactly as he left it. He is a twenty-first century yeoman, broom in one hand, iPhone in the other.
As the two resume working together, old wounds reopen and fresh ones are sliced, but they are masked by a masculine bravado. They are alternately enemies and best friends, but a quick laugh and a brusque word always covers all. It is only at the play’s conclusion that the emotional turmoil broiling under the surface throughout finally rears its head.
Foxsmith’s writing captures the rhythm of rural Northern dialect well. His dialogue ebbs and flows, sometimes terse and sullen, sometimes expressive and – in Crellin and Parr’s broad, flat accents – almost melodic. At times it is a little difficult to believe that two uneducated farmers would converse with such vim and vigour – and I say that having grown up in a world of Sams and Jims – but once this minor hurdle is cleared, Foxsmith’s play can be appreciated – relished in fact – for its delectable mix of rough banter, authentic vernacular and brief moments of raw emotion.
When performing in a space as intimate as the Finborough, it is the little things that matter. It is the subtle smirks, the throwaway remarks, and the casual gestures that really convince an audience to believe. Happily, both Crellin and Parr are totally present, totally contained within their roles. Parr is instantly likeable, with his sly grin and incessant ribbing. When he argues he does so with the passion of a young man but when he smiles, he is a boy playing truant again.
Crellin is just as good; he is a Falstaff of the North – a gruff yet playful father figure who hides his sorrows away. His connection to those that have gone before him and to the land beneath his feet bubbles throughout, exploding towards the end of the play in a fiery speech reminiscent of Johnny Byron’s in Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem.
The two performances complement each other perfectly and the chemistry between them is tangible. Throughout all their blazing rows, their beer-fuelled reminiscing and their good-natured joshing, there is always the impression that these are two people who care deeply about each other. Bryony Shanahan’s production nurtures this chemistry, and the result is a gentle but powerful production of a fine new play.