by Laura Kressly
Grief is debilitating. The pain and emptiness can be so paralysing that the prospect of doing anything at all feels impossible. For the family in Barney Norris’s new play, they have lived in stasis for the better part of two years following the death of their patriarch. Isolated in rural Hampshire on a farm burdened with extensive debt, mum Jenny soaks herself with wine and ignores the red-topped bills. Her son Ryan, the farm’s inheritor, tries to keep things running whilst daughter Lou is a construction company receptionist longing to escape. Days pass, identical to those before. Unfortunately, much of the script matches the lack of movement of this family’s existence.
by Laura Kressly
A newborn lamb lies on the ground. It’s dead. It’s mother will soon follow, but there are others that are still alive or yet to be born, and they need help. Bec and Anna fight for the survival of these tiny creatures as if their lives depend on it.
A couple wrestle each other with all the affection and aggression that only a couple who have been together for a long time can. It’s tender, brutal, unrestrained and familiar. They each know exactly what the other will do next, and how to wind them up. But it will soon end, as one of them has to leave soon.
As picturesque as agrarian life may be with it’s rustic farmhouses, sweeping land and livestock, it is not an easy one for older and younger generations who just want to make a decent living. Faded and weather worn, Sam looks after his horses as he’s done his whole life; the younger Jim is all bouncy, boyish banter. The two clearly have much affection for each other in this emotive story of a tragic hero’s fall. But Daniel Foxsmith’s Weald, though full of poetry, passion and the ability to find the audience’s raw nerves, at just over an hour it sells itself short and lacks the sweat and earthiness of farm labour.
Sam (David Crellin) and Jim (Dan Parr) spend most of their time in a barn surrounded by riding tack and looking after horses. Though everything seems well, dramatic revelations are eventually confessed, bringing fiery conflict between the two. Crellin and Parr’s performances are exemplary, with emotional journeys that are the kind actors dream of. They both relish Foxsmith’s rich language and have a wonderfully watchable presence. Their character journeys feel rushed, though; this is wholly down to the script. It’s too short to justify Sam’s final, sudden deterioration that harks of Shakespeare’s Henry V should he have failed at Agincourt.
Bryony Shanahan’s direction taps into the poetic and powerful heart of the script that addresses coming to terms with personal failure, life choices and platonic male relationships that span decades. Her regular use of the audience space shows this is a story that won’t be contained. Though a masculine play, it’s still accessible to female audience members what with the themes that transcend gender. As a failed actor having to adapt to a new and totally unplanned for life, Sam’s struggles particularly resonate and left me feeling exposed and vulnerable, but the grit endemic to farming is glaringly absent. Linguistically heady, Weald lacks a visceral-ness. Even Sam’s final actions when faced with his own ruin are stylised, distancing the audience from the characters’ emotional life.
This is still a beautiful play with fine performances and painfully relevant to present day economic uncertainty, but it’s a sanitised version of real life. Though Sam and Jim mock the wealthy city family that bought the farm house, covering it in solar panels and driving a spotless Range Rover, their daily routine as depicted in the script bears more resemblance to the unseen city man with his shiny wellies than the true life of yard workers.
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