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Playwright Dan Foxsmith: ‘It’s OK to discuss mental health and mental fragility with each other’

By Ben Kelly


is the fourth play by writer Dan Foxsmith, and through an intense father-son dynamic which lies at its heart, it deals with the traditional notions around masculinity and how they are increasingly being challenged by younger generations. He chatted to Attitude about the issues he’s trying to tackle through this profound new piece.

This is your fourth play Dan, how did you get into writing?

I trained as an actor, but the course that I trained on – East 15 – is a course that allows you to get a taste of producing, directing, writing, if you wish, and so that’s where I found that I enjoyed writing, and that it was something I wanted to grow.

Give us a brief overview of what your new play Weald is about.

It’s set in rural England, and it’s a play about fathers and sons; or rather a fatherless son and a son-less father. It’s also about a quarter life crisis, so the guy is about 25, he’s a bit lost, and he comes home from the big city, and tries to reconnect and work out where he’s gone wrong. He used to work on a livery yard, and there’s a bit of me in that, I used to do that too. It’s about men and how men don’t always communicate, and aren’t always emotionally transparent with each other, and looking at the reasons why that is, and why it isn’t such a good thing. It looks at gender roles, and how some of that is quite outdated, and leads men to struggle quite a bit.



Do you feel the current generation of young men are battling against the traditional notions of what it means to be a man in this country?

Yes I think they are. The generation even below mine, I think they are better at being open. They’re becoming more aware of it, and there’s less of a stigma attached, and I think strangely, it’s my generation and the older generations that are being left behind because they’re the ones who have a strong attachment to those old gender roles, and how they measure male success and achievement. The play explores that because there’s one younger man and one older man, and the older man is supposed to have done everything by now – he’s supposed to have his house, have his family – but he doesn’t. It’s as much about him coming to terms with that, and dealing with that, as it is about the young guy finding his place in life. It’s trying to bring everyone into the conversation and not forgetting that there’s a whole generation of men that are easily forgotten about.

Have you dealt with your own struggles around masculinity, and the expectations that come with it?

Yeah I think in not being encouraged to be open and honest and to discuss when you feel vulnerable and anxious – that ‘man up’ culture where you don’t share your feelings or express your emotions. I’m not even talking about strangers, but to your friends, your male friends. I feel sometimes even within my friendship group we can talk about anything, across a huge spectrum, but to talk openly about how we feel, and fears that we might be failing at things, we just clam up and we can’t talk about it. That’s affected me in my life, and I can pinpoint those moments where if I had been a bit more emotionally open, I wouldn’t have been in the positions I’ve been in. The play itself doesn’t deal directly with suicide, but it does deal with mental health. The play is not about things that you can easily categorise and put in a box, it’s more about that feeling inside you that affects you silently, and we’ve all felt that at some point. Once you realise that you’re not alone, and other people feel like that, and you’re not less of a person for having those feelings, you’re actually more like everyone else, and that’s not bad thing.


In 2014, there were 4,623 male suicides in the UK – the second highest number in 15 years. People are starting to take notice, but it’s still under-reported isn’t it?

Big time. I think there’s a reason for that as well. In my opinion it’s because it doesn’t fit the rhetoric, or the stories that people want to tell about men; that men are fallible, and that men can fail. I think that’s a big part of it. As you say, that is slowly starting to change and we’re encouraging people to be open and talk about these things, and that it’s OK to discuss your mental health and your mental fragility with each other.

Should we be giving mental health as much importance as we currently give physical health?

Absolutely. You’re trying to treat your body right by going to the gym, and yoga, and running, and there needs to be an equivalent. If you’re going to clean the outside, you have to clean the inside too, I feel. Or maybe that’s just an excuse for not going down the gym enough! Your body is a physical vessel, but your mind is so powerful, you have to look after it, and look after each other too.

The world premiere of ‘Weald’ by Daniel Foxsmith is at the Finborough Theatre, London, February 2-27. For more information and tickets, head to

You can follow Dan on Twitter @dan_foxsmith.

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