You’d be forgiven for thinking that Foxfinder, now playing at the Ambassador’s Theatre, has been written in response to the increasingly chaotic Brexit process, but it was actually staged a whole five years before the referendum, at the Finborough. Watching it now, you can’t help thinking that writer, Dawn King could never have imagined how close to reality her visionary piece is becoming.
Set in a dystopian parallel present, this parable tells us that factory workers receive only one egg per week in their rations, and the nation’s food shortage means that farmers must be stringently managed. In this isolated England the threat from abroad is real and people are controlled by propaganda and scare stories.
The Covey’s, still reeling from the death of their son, find their farm is under threat, as William Bloor, a 19 year-old ‘Foxfinder’ arrives to inspect their property, but also their lives, because there’s a risk that the farm is contaminated by the “red beast”. Samuel and Judith need to prove they are not “collaborators” and neighbour, Sarah also has reason to worry. The fact that Bloor has never actually seen a fox doesn’t dissuade him from all he’s been taught, foxes can destroy both crops and the mind.
As works best with this kind of dystopian setting, information is revealed slowly and in small chunks to the audience, layered in to natural conversations so that we become absorbed legitimately to this familiar but strange world. This gives Foxfinder the edge of a psychological thriller while retaining a sense of expressive storytelling.
The staging cleverly represents both the vastness of the exterior space and the confines of the farmhouse, as the outdoors are literally brought indoors, tall trees beside the stairs and the undergrowth sitting just meters from the kitchen. Director Rachel O’Riordan has ensured the tense pace continues throughout, and although the first act can seem a little slow, you know it’s picking up to something meaningful.
The themes become heightened in the capable hands of the four strong cast. Iwan Rheon’s perfectly precise, self-flagellating antagonist is captivating, while Paul Nicholls expertly navigates his character’s further descent in to madness. Heida Reed shines as the level-headed Judith, and some of the best scenes are between her and Bryony Hannah’s Sarah.
Dawn King has very cunningly created a scenario where the central character is clearly deranged, but because all of the other characters occupy this same parallel world, only we the audience can truly see the insanity unravel, the ridiculousness of Bloor’s assertions allow for small moments of comic relief, but the overall theme is disconcertingly dark.
While Foxfinder isn’t trying to predict the future, it presents a reality that is terrifyingly close. Think 1984 in the countryside and you’ll come pretty close to this particular piece of drama. It works in this context because Dawn King has committed to the world she has written, making it fascinatingly absorbing and ever so slightly disturbing.