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The Theatreguide.London Review

Finborough Theatre   February 2016

Although it was written in 2013, Daniel Foxsmith's play has a comfortable old-fashioned feel about it, and that sense of having seen it or something like it before may be one of its strongest attractions. 

In rural England an older man whose family has farmed this spot for 400 years is visited by a lad who used to work for him but went off to London and has now come back, looking for his old job. 

That is really all you need to know to be able to imagine the rest of the play. The two are going to circle warily around each other for a bit, quarrel a bit, and eventually bond. Unhappy secrets will be shared and wisdom and friendship offered. 

The play will ask whether a close connection with the land and the past is a source of strength and identity or just a trap, and whether it is possible to re-establish that connection after breaking it. 

You'll know all that after five minutes, and either will or won't enjoy watching it take its inevitable path. 

The playwright further insures the comforting sense of inevitability by allowing no surprises. You probably couldn't predict every specific revelation and plot turn just from the premise, but Foxsmith structures things so that every scene telegraphs what's going to happen in the next or the one after that. 

Once we're told that the boy used to ride the biggest horse in the stable, it is inevitable that a turning point in his story will be his getting back in the saddle. When we see the older man open and then crumple and hide a piece of mail, the later revelation of his financial condition will slot right into place.

Even the episode of offstage violence that climaxes the play may shock but cannot surprise. 

Given very little opportunity to add anything in character development and revelation to what the playwright spells out or makes inescapable, director Bryony Shanahan and actors David Crellin and Dan Parr devote their energies to establishing and sustaining the sense of a specific time and place on which the play depends. 

They are largely successful, and the solid reality they evoke is a large part of the play's appeal.

Gerald Berkowitz

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