Writer: Daniel Foxsmith
Director: Bryony Shanahan
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
The role of men in a world in which the gender balance has shifted and pressures of life have increased is the underlying theme of Daniel Foxsmith’s new one-act play, taking the perspectives of two generations.
The play’s rural setting represents a simpler lifestyle that allows basic priorities to be brought into clearer focus. Jim returns from London to the remote livery yard that he left as a teenager six years earlier. He needs a job from its owner Samuel, but, much more than that, he needs to reestablish the bond that existed between them, as he combats depression and searches for a sense of purpose in his life. He needs to find his “home”.
The first third of this two-hander is taken up with cross-generational taunting that sounds tired and over familiar. At this stage, director Bryony Shanahan needs to harness Dan Parr’s high energy as Jim, a very youthful 25-year-old, to give some zest to her production. But first Jim opens out and then Samuel to give the play a fresh momentum and two superb performances carry it along from there, movingly and with ease.
Jim is buckling under the challenges of adulthood, seeking refuge in his past life. He feels the strong pulls of continuity and legacy and agonises over whether he should yield to them or resist, seeing Samuel as a substitute father who is, seemingly, a pillar of stability and wisdom. However, David Crellin’s world-weary Samuel is facing his own crises. He has a keen interest in military history, a penchant for quoting Shakespeare, Marlowe and Oliver Cromwell and he reflects on the simple lives of the horses in his care, where the burdens of responsibilities, choices and regrets play no part.
On a thrust stage, Christopher Hone’s wooden set gives pride of place to a darts board, a prized symbol of masculinity. The production is lit beautifully by Seth Rook Williams, giving a melancholic feel to moments of tenderness and sharpness to simulated activity with the horses and to dramatic clashes. Gentle and low-key for the most part, the play gains harshness and fire as it reaches its climax, Foxsmith’s writing having become increasingly thoughtful and perceptive. Jim looks to Samuel for guidance, but we are left with a sense that it is just as much he young, moving forwards and making discoveries, who are leading the old.
Runs until 27 February 2016 | Image: Alex Brenner