4th February 2016
“Weald is concerned with the nature of legacy in a modern world, the potency of heritage and our desire to understand why we are who we are. Along the way, there are some things that remain constant for us, things that cannot be shaken in a world of six-packs, get-rich-quick schemes and student debt. Like the place I grew up. The place I call home. Weald explores what changes and what stays the same, and how, sometimes, we don’t realise the two are reversed until it’s too late.” – Daniel Foxsmith
Daniel Foxsmith sets his play an ambitious goal: to capture the ways in which our sense of identity is both clarified and challenged by the passage of time. He achieves this by examining two characters at very different stages in their lives, yet both shaped by doubts about their future.
Weald chronicles the changing relationship between two men working on a farmyard. The play opens with middle-aged Samuel (David Crellin), the owner of the yard, singing a mournful rendition of Kate Rusby’s ‘My Young Man’, whilst the first strands of light dispel the early morning darkness. When Jim (Dan Parr) – a twenty-something former employee of his – returns to the yard, begging for three weeks’ work, Samuel is extremely hesitant. Jim attempts to reignite their old friendship – perhaps a little too forcibly – but is met by silence. A phone rings and rings, but is never answered. Then, seemingly against his better judgement, Samuel relents, and the two men are colleagues again.
This opening scene beautifully illustrates the characters of both men, which develop in a natural and satisfying manner as the play progresses. Samuel is a contemplative, plain speaking man, quietly proud of his work and his family’s long ownership of the land. Jim, by contrast, is effusive and self-assured – a hard worker, yet impulsive and immature. In an early scene, he and Samuel bond whilst scrutinising the non-rural owner of the nearby farmhouse, before launching into an invective laden rant about their Range Rover and trophy wife. As Samuel fairly observes, “It’s no way to live, spending your life being aggressive, intolerant […], It’s not honourable.” It is a valuable lesson, emblematic of the fatherly feelings Samuel has for his young charge, whom he desperately wants to flourish.
Yet Samuel’s brand of ‘honour’ is unhealthily linked to feelings of emasculation, the fearful acknowledgment of his dwindling purpose, made worse by the uncertain future of the yard. His instinct is to isolate himself from the world, to pretend that there is no ringing phone. Indeed, the exploration of Samuel’s inability to accept his changing circumstances, contrasted with Jim’s growing maturity, is one of the play’s great strengths. Every time he helps Jim in a moment of crisis their roles reverse a little more. For every time Jim is empowered to face his professional and personal responsibilities, Samuel’s purpose diminishes, and he becomes increasingly withdrawn. When Jim acknowledges that farm work doesn’t come naturally to him, Samuel keeps telling him that “You’re not nothing” – and we see with heartbreaking clarity that, as a mentor, he is expiating his own feelings of worthlessness, which damage his sense of honour.
Foxsmith’s excellent script is aided by two terrific performances. David Crellin is a magnificently burdened Samuel, yet he also injects the role with admirable complexity – at once a loving, humourous and frustrated figure. The contrast between his taciturnity in the opening scenes, and, for instance, a gleeful later monologue about the unlikely rise of Darts World Champion Keith Deller is quite fascinating, and very natural. Such moments inform the play’s exploration of Samuel and Jim’s polarised and yet paradoxically linked fortunes, and Crellin exploits their dramatic potential to compellingly human effect.
Jim’s frank and winsome character is an appealing foil to Samuel. Dan Parr captures the joys and fears of one coming to terms with life as an adult, such that occasional moments of exposition appear as emblems of his growing maturity. By talking things out and being honest with himself, he comes to accept his changing place in the world, in striking contrast to his mentor. It is a sweetly cheeky performance, and yet Parr is at his most memorable when speaking of his father, a former colleague of Samuel’s. The complex intimacy between Jim and this long-deceased figure, whom we never see, is fascinatingly illustrated. It is particularly touching to see the courage with which Jim confronts difficult revelations, compelling a sense of resolution that helps complete a satisfying character arc.
The Finborough Theatre’s intimate stage is impressively utilised, a flexible barn-style interior that appears as Samuel’s office, stables and the fields in which Jim goes horse riding. The director, Bryony Shanahan, and the Production Designer, Christopher Hone, should be commended for the believability of the setting, achieved through a number of simple, but clever touches. When it rains, Parr washes his clothes in water; when he rides, he squats on a stool whilst the sounds of hooves echo in the background. Between scenes, the actors perform manual labour on the yard, accompanied by brooding incidental music, reminding us that both men are running from something. This culminates with the spectacular sound effects used in a slightly unnatural, yet undeniably memorable monologue about the Civil War, conveying Samuel’s atavistic behaviour to intriguing effect.
Weald is a very satisfying play, a compelling examination of the impact that changing circumstances may have on our sense of self. Foxsmith is a highly empathetic writer, and his characters’ narrative arcs are very moving. Coupled with David Crellin and Dan Parr’s excellent performances and the production’s immersive design, Weald made for an enriching theatrical experience.