Review: Weald at Finborough Theatre

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.

Weald at Finborough Theatre
Photo credit: Alex Brenner

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 at Finborough Theatre
Photo credit: Alex Brenner

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.


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Review: And Then Come The Nightjars at Theatre503

One of my favourite things about theatre is the way it constantly surprises. You go into a play thinking you know what it’s about, and how you’ll react to it – and it turns out you’re totally wrong, in the best possible way.

An example: the unexpected delight that is And Then Come The Nightjars. Written by Bea Roberts, and co-produced by Theatre503 and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre, it’s billed as a story about the foot and mouth crisis that struck Britain’s farms in 2001. Which may not sound like laugh-a-minute stuff, but it turns out this wonderful play is funnier and more uplifting than I could have imagined.

And Then Come The NightjarsPerhaps that’s because the depressing topic of foot and mouth is only a part of what this two-man play is really about. More than that, it focuses on the relationship between two friends: Michael, a Devonshire farmer, and Jeff, the local vet. The action covers several years, beginning in the early days of the foot and mouth epidemic, and on into the years that follow. Michael and Jeff’s chalk and cheese relationship has its ups and downs, like all friendships, but they’re exacerbated by the crisis, which places them unwillingly on opposite sides. In the years that follow, it’s not only Michael’s farm and the rural community that needs to recover.

So not surprisingly, there are some really poignant moments in Paul Robinson’s production, but there are also a lot of laughs – mostly thanks to the delightful character of Michael, played by David Fielder. With his gruff manner and thick West Country accent, which – as impenetrable as it sometimes is – can’t conceal his fondness for the f word, Michael’s the epitome of the grumpy old man, but with a vulnerability that means you can’t help but love him. Well-spoken and relentlessly cheerful Geoffrey (Nigel Hastings), who fills every silence with pub quiz questions, is Michael’s polar opposite, and yet that’s what makes their friendship so much fun to watch – it shouldn’t work, but somehow it does. The two actors are clearly having fun with their roles; they have great chemistry, and the affection between them is totally believable.

Though everything we see takes place in Michael’s barn, it wouldn’t be true to say that’s where all the action is; Max Dorey’s beautifully rustic set is only half the story. There’s an awful lot happening off stage too, but we don’t need to see it to understand what’s going on, and nor would we necessarily want to. One of the most powerful and heartbreaking scenes takes place at the height of the foot and mouth crisis; as Michael and Jeff stand silent and motionless in the centre of the barn, a flickering orange light tells us all we need to know about what’s occurring outside. It’s simple but incredibly effective – as are the slow interludes between scenes, where subtle shifts in the lighting, designed by Sally Ferguson, mean we can literally see time passing before our eyes.

And Then Come The Nightjars is a moving tale of friendship, and resilience in the face of almost unbearable loss. And it addresses these themes with such warmth and humour that I didn’t want it to end. Who would have thought a story about foot and mouth would be so enjoyable? Certainly not me.


Can’t see the map on iPhone? Try turning your phone to landscape and that should sort it. I don’t know why but I’m working on it… 😉