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Weald (Finborough Theatre)

Daniel Foxsmith's new play receives its premiere at Finborough

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Dan Parr (Jim) and David Crellin (Samuel)
© Alex Brenner

As the world gallops forwards, some people fall off. Samuel owns a struggling stable yard somewhere in the South East and he's resorted to selling off assets. There are new neighbours in the 500 year-old farmhouse next door, with new solar panels on the roof and a new Land Rover in the driveway.

"This place never changes," says Jim, 25, back from London seeking a few weeks' work. "Same trees. Same grass. Looks just like it did when I left."

Daniel Foxsmith's two-hander is a quiet testimonial to a way of life that's under threat. Over 75 minutes, the two men go to work. They muck out the horses and arrange the feed. They whinny and click, work in hand and on saddle. The work is so tender and time-consuming, performed with real honour and integrity, that it seems such a waste to see it trampled underfoot by stampeding economics. Its value isn't in its bottom line, but in itself, in beautiful creatures well kept and cared for.

It's not just the work that's on the wane. Foxsmith's writing about men, and a specific type of rural masculinity. Samuel's gruff, a divorcee with a darts board in his stable and an interest in military history. (He's currently reading about the English civil war; he's 100% Roundhead.) Jim's gobby: a good lad, as they say, but a handful. He's left London having conceived a child unexpectedly. Is he on the run from responsibility or trying to measure up to it?

There's a gorgeous fondness between the two men, and their friendship is such that it can tip into frustration - on both their parts. As they work, they talk: round subjects sometimes, as reticent men will do, but then, in their own time, directly. The rhythms of conversation are beautifully drawn. Samuel's a surrogate father of sorts, after Jim's dad, a knackerman, died in the field. His time and his advice are the making of Jim. He breaks him in like one of his horses.

Judicious use of sound and light, from Peter Rice and Seth Rook Williams respectively, seems to bring horses into the tiny upstairs space. When one's found lying lame, it's so well looked after that you can practically picture it. Foxsmith mines a strong sense of the landscape too - the smell of grass and manure, the bite in the air - and Christopher Hone's simple slatted stage, festooned with riding materials and splattered with mud, lets the imagination go to work.

But Bryony Shanahan's production is just as good with its two-legged creatures. David Crellin is superb as Sam: all surface smiles and a stiff upper lip, but there's a depth of sadness beneath. It's that of a man all out of answers, but too proud to ask for help. Dan Parr's a great foil: irritating at first, but scampish and sincere at heart.

True, Foxsmith's plot isn't the strongest, and you can see bailiffs and final bills from the first unanswered phone call, before he tips over at the end in a bid for a dramatic climax, but story's not the point. Weald bears witness to a way of life on the way out.

Weald runs at the Finborough Theatre until 27 February.

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