It’s a stereotype based – sadly – in fact that men aren’t very good at talking about their feelings. Inspired by statistics on male suicide compiled by the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), playwright Daniel Foxsmith has created a short but incredibly powerful piece of work in Weald, presented by Snuff Box Theatre at the Finborough.
The story’s set in rural England, and opens as Jim returns home after six years in London, begging his late father’s friend, Sam, for a job at his livery yard. The older man grudgingly agrees, and the two throw themselves into their work, not only refusing to deal with their past problems but also avoiding the uncomfortable truths they’re now hiding from each other. But neither can run forever, and reality ultimately catches up with them as the play reaches a gripping and emotional climax.
One of the biggest strengths of Weald is its casting of two actors who have genuine chemistry. David Crellin is the world weary Sam, a man so obsessed with history that he can’t look ahead to the future, while Dan Parr is a twitchy bundle of energy as Jim, putting on a show of bravado to hide his deep insecurities and fear of what lies ahead. It’s clear that Sam is a father figure to his young friend, but the relationship between the two ends up working both ways, and ultimately turning completely on its head as the story unfolds and the characters develop.
Bryony Shanahan’s direction allows these two fine performances to take centre stage, with no distractions. The actors use every inch of the intimate space, often springing from the stage and almost landing in the audience as they go about their work. And while we’re offered a glimpse into their world, nobody else is: other characters are alluded to but never actually enter the yard, and the horses are only ever present in the audience’s imagination. This heightens the sense that these two damaged souls are completely isolated from the rest of their community, and have no-one but each other to rely on for support.
Weald is an important play, beautifully written and performed, that really highlights the struggle faced by many men to own up to their emotions. It’s clear from the start that something’s not right – Jim’s sudden reappearance, Sam’s refusal to answer the phone – and the play’s heartbreaking climax is a direct consequence of their inability to address their problems, just as the emotional conclusion offers a faint glimmer of hope. It’s not an easy play to watch, but it is one that deserves to be seen, leaving us as it does with a feeling of responsibility for the world we live in and the people we share it with.