Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Daniel Foxsmith: Weald

By | Published on Thursday 28 January 2016

danielfoxsmith

The latest show to head to the Finborough Theatre is ‘Weald’, a play set in a world of horses (a livery) which focuses on two men with a shared history. At the heart of the piece is an exploration of what it means to be a man, and the pressure on men to remain strong, no matter what the circumstances are.
To find out more about the play, and the creative force behind it, I put some questions to playwright Daniel Foxsmith.

CM: Tell us about ‘Weald’. What happens in it, and who is it about?
DF: Weald is about a son-less father and a fatherless son. It’s about a guy, Jim, who returns home after a bit of a quarter-life crisis. That’s a story we know. But alongside that, there’s Samuel, who should have everything by now as a fifty-something man, but finds himself in the confusing situation of life not having panned out quite as he had imagined. With that premise, the story explores how they deal with (or don’t deal with) their respective pressures and what impact that has on the other man.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
DF: What does it mean to ‘be a man’ nowadays? That’s the question at the heart of ‘Weald’.

On a personal level, I find it hard to communicate my feelings of inadequacy and frustration as a man – that’s certainly in the text somewhere. But if I open up the blinkers a little wider than my own experiences, I guess it’s also about a nagging sensation that sits with me, one that tells me men in particular are unwilling to entertain and listen to other men who express these vulnerabilities: unwilling to listen to each other being human. I want to know why. ‘Weald’ is the beginning of that exploration. There aren’t many answers in there, but there are lots of questions. The story is about a feeling that grows in your guts, the one you know is affecting you silently. It’s about fathers and sons. It’s about where you grew up and why that’s not always ‘home’. It’s about the pressures of heritage, legacy and what that means to you and to society and why those aren’t always the same thing.

CM: What made you want to write about this particular subject?
DF: I wanted to capture a world I spent some time in as a teenager. It’s a place that has it’s own language specific to horses and how they are cared for. It’s a beautiful world, a world of grace and elegance and of rural mysticism, of graft, of strange smells and loyalty to the seasons. There’s simplicity in horse rearing that hasn’t changed a great deal for hundreds of years, which I really enjoy in the face of what seems to me to be increasingly complex and exhausting metropolitan living. God these rose-tinted glasses are strong, aren’t they…?

CM: Did you do much research to prepare for writing it?
DF: I worked on livery yards, so the language of the world was already in me somewhere. It’s a bit like a memory recall exercise; the more you’re provoked to recount, the more flavour and detail emerges. Once I knew it was set in the world of horses, it was about talking to people from the past that might enrich this story and facilitate its telling. As for the other side of things, it was more about capturing the feeling of inarticulate frustration I have as a man and then feeding that to the story – the piece isn’t a scientific overview of mental health, there are people and organisations better suited to do that than me. It’s primarily a story about two men and their experiences, so I concentrated on that.

CM: What have you learned, in the course of writing this? Are you better informed about why suicide rates are so high, for example?
DF: I’m not an expert on suicide rates, or mental health. But I have realised that those deplorable stats are part of a larger issue that’s contained somewhere in amongst the lines and pages of ‘Weald’. There’s a toxic story in our culture that doesn’t allow our men, young and old, to fail, to be susceptible, or to express weakness in any way. I’ve learned along the journey of ‘Weald’ that I have lots of unanswered questions as a man. And some of them I’m okay with, and others I’m saying: “Why is this a problem? Why am I still on the same page with this?” Those old gender behaviours and stereotypes are really fucking with my daily life. So I’m taking it upon myself to read more, listen more and (try to) talk less. I’ve also learned I can’t grow from a place of cynicism too, so I’m also trying to leave that behind.

CM: In writing it, did you have an agenda? Are you hoping to raise awareness of these mental health issues?
DF: When I started the project two years ago my agenda was simple: write a well-structured engaging story that was from myself. I think those simple goals are still true. It’s only now I’m realising what the play is exploring in the context of fantastic shows/writing like ‘This Will End Badly’. I think ‘Weald’ isn’t about what can be easily categorised or put in a box. My question now having written ‘Weald’ is: why aren’t we affording our minds the same respect and care we give to our bodies?

CM: How involved have you been with the production of the play?
DF: Very involved. The piece has been in a two-year constant process of development and re-drafting. The company I run with Bryony and Charlotte, Snuff Box, has been going for four years and we’re in contact most days. I’ve had fantastic support from the Royal Exchange in Manchester whilst Bryony has been working on the directing side of things. Now we’re a week away from opening, she’s rightly told me to piss off out of the rehearsal room, because it’s due time that the actors and creatives take hold of the piece. This is the moment of rough magic where the play becomes a show, stops being mine and becomes theirs. It’ll mean I’ll sleep better too probably.

CM: What made you become a playwright? Why is it the right form of expression for you?
DF: I trained on the Acting and Contemporary Theatre course at East 15 Acting School. It’s a unique course that gives you a chance to try your hand at performing, directing, producing and writing should you wish. I found from there I enjoyed writing and just kept on at it alongside my acting work. For me, writing is a place where I can talk without speaking when it all needs an outlet. And for the days when I manage to get something halfway coherent down, a simple pen, paper or keyboard is a lifeline, like an extra limb.

CM: What’s next for you? Do you have any other imminent projects?
DF: I’ve got a few things on the horizon. Next is mostly acting work – performing with the lovely Antler Theatre at Soho in March, then working on the next Snuff Box Theatre show, Click, written by the powerhouse that is Charlotte Josephine. Other than that, getting a cat is a top priority.

‘Weald’ is on at the Finborough Theatre from 2-27 February. See the venue website here, for more info and to book your tickets.

LINKS: www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk | www.snuffboxtheatre.co.uk | twitter.com/dan_foxsmith



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