Interview: Daniel Foxsmith, BLUSH

In April 2015, legislation was passed that made revenge pornography – sharing a private sexual photo or film of someone without their consent – a criminal act. This became the catalyst for BLUSH from Snuff Box Theatre, which tells five stories about image-based sexual abuse, and went on to an award-winning run in Edinburgh. Next month the play will transfer to Soho Theatre, before embarking on a national tour.

Photo Credit: The Other Richard

“It’s a bit of a bloody rollercoaster!” says Daniel Foxsmith, who appears in BLUSH alongside writer Charlotte Josephine. “It’s a blisteringly beautiful look at how we behave online, the rules we have or haven’t made for ourselves on there, a look at gender, our modern attitude to sex, promiscuity, sex education, the shame associated with sex and how our understanding of ourselves is shaping technology now.”

Described as “a slap in the face and a call to arms”, BLUSH fearlessly tackles a difficult subject, and encourages its audience to do the same. “We need to look at all of the above with both eyes wide open,” says Daniel, “so if we can get audiences to confront some ‘digital gremlins’ that are now firmly part of our online culture that’d be great. Beyond that, hopefully they’re engaged, entertained and there’s space for reflection and empathy after the show.”

BLUSH is the third play from Charlotte Josephine, who’s co-founder of Snuff Box Theatre along with Daniel and Bryony Shanahan. The show’s been in development since 2015: “After a lot of research by Charlotte Josephine, the piece, as far as I’m aware, found its current form early on in December 2015 after some research and development at Camden People’s Theatre, where Bryony Shanahan floated the idea of the five voices being played by two performers,” explains Daniel.

“It’s grown again from there; with director Edward Stambollouian making his deft mark on it on its way to Edinburgh last summer. I think now, post-Edinburgh, the show’s current form is a robust and direct piece of storytelling, which has been reflected in some lovely thoughts from reviewers and – most importantly – audiences alike, with Charlotte winning a Stage Award for Acting Excellence whilst sweating away in the depths of Underbelly!”

Daniel believes that research is the key to BLUSH‘s success. “I think the amount carried out before, during and beyond the writing of the show makes the content well thought-out and crucially well balanced. This isn’t a two-dimensional ear bashing for a particular section of society. Also Ed’s fine touch and James’s design have created a beautifully intense and sparse atmosphere for the stories to unfold.”

Photo credit: The Other Richard

Though the play was inspired by the concept of revenge porn, the true focus of the work is shame, which allows the show to speak to a much broader audience. “I’d say the show speaks to wider themes,” says Daniel. “It’s not just about digital sexual abuse. All of the things I mentioned in summing up the show are universal themes that I’d hazard to say everyone has brushed up against in one way or another at some point.”

After its run at Soho, BLUSH goes on tour throughout the summer around the UK. “I think touring outside of London is really important, but it feels especially relevant for BLUSH, because it can be harder to escape the digital pillory that online shaming can sometimes become in communities in smaller towns and cities.”

Daniel, Charlotte and Bryony founded Snuff Box in 2011 after graduating, inspired by one simple goal: “We wanted to work!” says Daniel. “The three of us trained as performers on the East 15 CT course, and had stories to tell by the end of it. No-one was waiting for us to tell them, so forming Snuff Box was a way for us to get our work made. With the addition of Jake Orr driving us on as producer, the team is aiming to keep telling stories that are full of heart and grit, in ways that provoke today’s audience.”

BLUSH is at Soho Theatre from 16th May-3rd June, then on tour until 24th June.

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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