Drama / Modern, Bedlam Theatre, Venue 49, 19:30 until 30th August.
Master of None’s gripping rendition of Dawn King’s Foxfinder does justice to a magnificent play that won the Papatango Theatre Company new writing competition of 2011. Audiences are sucked into a pressure vacuum where for an hour and a half they are engulfed in a dark, Kafka-esque dystopia where the themes disturb and the performance of the small cast entrance.
Set in a fractured England plagued by crop failure, the grasping tendrils of an overbearing government seek to eradicate the enemy from within responsible for the demise of ‘mother England’. Foxfinder’s roam the countryside looking for the creature capable of turning hardworking farmers into lazy, alcoholic sexual deviants by investigating the minutiae of their subjects lives. The red fox is lurking in the shadows, “history is watching” and the need to act is imminent.
Although it is unclear whether the play is set in the present, near or distant future, themes of paranoia, dissent, extreme nationalism and repression are adeptly woven together to create an atmosphere easily comparable to that of China during the Cultural Revolution, Nazi Germany or, perhaps most worryingly, some anti-immigration stances in Britain today. Amidst the tension of an inspection, when friend is turned against friend and the most innocent of acts is questioned, humour provides some light relief.
This comes primarily from the interplay between farmers Judith and Samuel Covey and Foxfinder William Bloor. Bloor shines in an overwhelmingly competent cast, interacting with high energy to form convincing on-stage relationships to provide an interesting contrast between the clinical rigour of investigation and the vast complexity of human emotion. This difference is encapsulated by the consistent and extremely harrowing punishment the young Foxfinder inflicts on himself in an effort to “remain clean in body and mind”. By attempting to guard against the corrupting influence of the fox, he forcing himself to a state of extreme sexual repression. The result is abominable, and although the merit of shock value is obviously important to the play, it must be noted that the content warning ought to be more explicit, going beyond mentioning there are adult themes and specifically stating the show contains sexual violence.
Staging was sparse and minimalistic. The use of only wooden beams and slats as materials for the few basic structures on stage allowed a rustic feel to permeate throughout the performance. Some issues with sound muffling speech in the first five minutes were quickly rectified. Overall, the entrancing use of sound, moving from the natural noises of the countryside to mesmerising reverberations that echoed around the high ceilings of the former church as tension rose was effective, ensuring that the countryside itself was the final, unseen cast member.
Foxfinder is so full of tension it is bursting at the seams. Highly engaging, the cast delves adeptly into complex themes and produces a highly nuanced and extremely impressive show.