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Daniel Foxsmith

Daniel Foxsmith Interview

10 January 2016 Ryan Ormonde

Daniel Foxsmith’s new play Weald opens at the Finborough Theatre on 2 February 2016. Foxsmith is the writer of The Altitude Brothers and The Observatory and cofounder of Snuffbox Theatre Company.

London Calling: Where did this play come from?

Daniel Foxsmith: Someone said to me, why don’t you write from yourself - a kind of personal thing, so that’s what I started to do. It’s sort of about me and my dad and my brother and the masculine relationships that I have with my family members.

LC: How did writing it compare to the other plays you have written?

DF: It’s probably the play that’s been the most work, in a number of ways. There’s a lot of personal stuff, so it’s working out the balance of that, but also it’s been through a really rigorous drafting process, more so than any of the other plays that I’ve written. It’s been through 12 or 13 drafts and it’s taken about two years to write from start to finish. It’s been a journey.

LC: A labour of love?

DF: Yes, I think all plays are, in a way - I think you have to start from a place of love. It’s something very close to me and the world that the play is set in is very close to me. It’s a lot of memories - smells and sights and sounds.

LC: Lyn Gardner noted that the production of Bound [by Bear Trap Theatre, featuring Foxsmith] smelt of the sea. Will Weald smell of a stable?

DF: Quite possibly, I don’t know. I’d love to capture those things that are evocative of that world. The sights and sounds and smells of a stable are very powerful and take you to that place instantly. It’s often things that you don’t think of, like the smell of wax jackets or leather or saddles - they all kind of mix together. It’s not always the obvious things like hay or manure.

LC: Would you describe yourself as a horsey person then?

DF: No. I grew up around horses and I worked on a livery yard as a teenager. I can ride horses but I never had a particular passion for it. I was in that world but also observing it, working as a stable hand. You see the people who own the horses but you’re also part of the working life of the yard so I kind of had a unique experience.

LC: The famous ‘horses and issues’ play is Peter Shaffer’s Equus. Was this an inspiration?

DF: I’ve not read Equus, to my shame. I suppose the short answer is no! In Weald the equine world is the frame through which the story is told. It’s really a story about fathers and sons. It’s about legacy and heritage and what those things mean to you - whether they have any relevance in a modern world.

LC: Where does the title come from?

DF: I grew up in and around Maidstone and Sidcup - I’m a Kentish lad. The Weald of Kent is just further south; it’s a beautiful area. But ‘weald’ itself is an old English word for a wooded area. The title is about rural England; it could be anywhere. It’s a word for the old world countryside.

LC: Did writing this play leave you with more questions about being a man in the 21st Century?

DF: Yes, definitely. I had to go away and educate myself and broaden my mind and dispel some of those gender role myths about being a provider, those things that add pressure to an already really, really difficult time of your life when you’re in your mid to late 20s. You’re supposed to have done everything and got your house and got your car and when it doesn’t work out like that you’re left to pick up the pieces.

LC: Will those questions lead you to somewhere new in your writing?

DF: Now it’s always in the back of my head. It’s not just male gender roles but it’s female gender roles, the transgender thing. In a way, our language hasn’t caught up, or is behind the changes that are starting to happen incredibly slowly, the equality gap shrinking ever so slightly. We really need to go away and have a think about how we address these issues, these roles that we have, and really interrogate what they’re doing to people young and old. It’s something that’s really stuck with me and that I will carry through.

The company [Snuffbox] is working on another show that will probably happen in the summer this year, which is kind of the flip side - dealing with female stereotypes and roles, and the pressures that society puts on us. I think there’s a real undercurrent here that’s also in Weald - the way that we commodify shame and humiliation in a modern world, [the fact] that now public shaming has become a commodified thing on Twitter. We’re publicly shaming people and we watch and sit back as it unfolds in front of us like never before. I think that’s something that feeds into gender and masculinity. It’s really important to me to break down this stuff because it’s crippling men emotionally.

LC: What kind of theatre don’t you like?

DF: That’s a really hard question. I don’t know. I like stuff that jumps up and grabs me and brings me into a world and doesn’t apologise for wanting to tell a story I’m not familiar with. I don’t like things that are surface or shallow. It’s always nice to be entertained but I think with theatre, because it’s so live you have a real opportunity to really grab people and immerse them, in a way that maybe film can’t. I would love for Weald to be something that can do that.

But as to what I don’t like, I don’t know - I don’t like to be bored, I guess - when you start looking at your watch and stuff. Also things that are unnecessarily misogynist or sexist. I think that’s bollocks really, for want of a better word. I think we don’t need that stuff being spread in the theatre or generally in the really world. So that kind of stuff really gets my goat, if you like.

LC: How does the collaboration between you and Bryony [Shanahan, director of Weald] work?

DF: It’s very close. We’ve worked together for a long time now so it’s very, very honest. She’ll normally take hold of the script, chop it to bits and tell me what’s wrong with it and I love that because I’ve been working on it for two years - we’ve been working on it together on and off - so it’s great to be able to get to that point and then give it to someone and go ‘okay, this is yours now’. It’s really hard to do - it’s really hard to give it up.

It’s a really nice partnership at Snuffbox. All three of us: Charlie [Charlotte Josephine], Bryony and me - are very close and tight and we can be really honest about things. And you know, sometimes we don’t always see eye to eye but that’s part of it because then you’re working through it. But as long as it’s true and it’s open we’re all good.

Weald opens at the Finborough Theatre on 2 February 2016. For more information and to book tickets, see website.

 

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