Saturday, 27 February 2016

Weald (play by Daniel Foxsmith at the Finborough with David Crellin)

I have just seen Weald by Daniel Foxsmith at the Finborough Theatre. Unfortunately this is its last night, so I can't drum up business for it, but I want to explore why it was so good.

First of all it's the mesmerising performance by David Crellin, owner of a small stable of horses, a man who never achieved his dreams, and whose remaining props are tottering. It's a two hander, and Dan Parr as Jim, the young man who has returned to this remote rural location after a spell in London, gives fine support, but it's Crellin's character, the older Samuel, who has the more painful journey and is pushed over to the edge, though their fates are intimately intertwined.

I don't really want to go through the play step by step. Information is teased out, but not in a tricksy way. More and more is revealed with each short scene, but there isn't a sense of the writer playing with the audience, rather that we must steadily absorb all this knowledge in order to make sense of what happens in the climactic scene.

I read the script immediately after the performance and was slightly surprised to see that certain earlier sections looked a little wordy when looked at cold on the page; they don't play like that at all. And although the denouement is as simple as could be, the way Crellin spoke one of his final lines was enough to move at least one audience member to tears. In other hands - another writer, another actor - maybe that ending could have been sentimental, but it felt fully earnt here. I also loved an earlier moment when Samuel attempts to make a gift of the yard to Jim. As is later revealed, it's not worth anything,so the gesture is stupid, wrongheaded, and yet the impulse behind the offer is crystal clear and so very human in this quasi father-son relationship.

Regular readers will know that this blog is mostly used for pontificating about music and comedy, but Weald is something special. Foxsmith makes clear  in a brief preface to the play that he is interested in exploring what masculinity means today, and the potentially fatal consequences of emotional inarticulacy: But this is not a schematic play: it feels like a real exploration of character, not lesiurely but not rushed, and the details chosen, right from the moment Samuel tells the newly returned Jim not to touch the radio, feel right - not that I've ever worked in a livery yard. But I am a man (of sorts) and the checks and balances in their attempts to communicate with each other feel convincing.

In short, this is a fine example of a play, and a production, doing all the right things: the craft doesn't draw attention to itself and we look through it to the suffering and struggle of these two linked individuals. Mention must also be made of the transitions between what were often fairly short scenes: there was never a sense of the pace flagging, but nothing was done which drew attention to its own cleverness.

In many of the conversations about plays and playwriting I used to have with my friend late of North Berwick a continual theme was that many, many plays held the attention beat by beat but at the end there was a kind of "So what?" feeling. Not so here. There is an overwhelming sense of tenderness and sympathy for both characters in the writing, as well as the playing, as we watch them try to make sense of what life is dealing them. It is rooted in a specific time - the farm in Samuel's family for generations has been sold off to a wealthy urban family who have stripped out the timbers and put in solar panelling - but it feels universal as well. I can only guess at the effort involved in the writing but the beauty of the final result is that nothing feels forced. So if Weald does have a further life beyond the Finborough, I can only recommend that you try and catch it.Or buy a copy of the play, now available. And my thanks to everyone involved for reminding me of what theatre can do.

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