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Foxfinder: A timely British dystopia

Billie Manning

It’s a turbulent time. Extreme weather. A food supply under threat. Truth obscured by meaningless words. Politicians blaming scapegoats for the country’s problems rather than addressing the real causes. A bubbling undercurrent of panic.

Does this describe our world, or the world of Foxfinder? It’s hard to tell, which is exactly why it's such a good idea to put this British dystopia back on the stage in 2018. First put on in the diminutive Finborough Theatre seven years ago, the play has now moved to the larger venue of the Ambassador’s Theatre with a star-studded cast, many of whom will be familiar from the small screen.
 
The tale is of West Country couple, Samuel and Judith Covey (Paul Nicholls and Poldark’s Heida Reed) recently bereaved of a child and struggling, who have fallen behind in their production quota for the year, and who await a visit from a Foxfinder, William Bloor (Game of Thrones’ Iwan Rheon) whose job it is to find out whether they have a mysteriously-diagnosed infestation. The word ‘fox’ is cleverly avoided for most of the first half, adding intrigue, with the feared animals being more often referred to as ‘the red beast’ and with other religion-heavy language.
 
Samuel and Judith, with their names plucked straight from the Bible, too, are nervous for the Foxfinder’s arrival, and it doesn’t get much better once he is there, with Rheon showing off his delightful naturally creepy demeanour. Unfortunately, one of the first noticeable things about the play is Samuel and Judith’s accents, which jump not just around the country but around the world, although perhaps in the future we’ll all have one homogenous accent, so there you go.
 

Iwan Rheon as William Bloor, the eponymous Foxfinder. Image Credit: Ambassador's Theatre via Facebook

Rheon also brings the necessary vulnerability to the role alongside the eeriness, although this is a tough job seeing as he is nearly 15 years older than the character is described. His pale eyes glow out from his even paler face (perhaps even paler than usual – Rheon and his partner had a baby just a month ago) and witnessing his self-flagellation, both metaphorical and literal, is haunting.
 
Bryony Hannah does particularly well as Sarah Box, the neighbour who isn’t quite as convinced by all the anti-fox rhetoric as Samuel and Judith. Her precisely controlled nervous energy and flickering eyes betray her sentiments to the audience before betraying her to Bloor, contrasting with Paul Nicholls’ Samuel, who like the landscape around him becomes completely wild by the end of the play.
 
The set is rather beautiful, with a painted backdrop behind a real tree and soil, and combines well with the folksy soundtrack, although there seems to be a sort of no-man’s land taking up much of centre stage, which the actors sometimes get lost in, and its easy to imagine the play finding its tension more easily in a more confined, darker space.
 
But this is a cleverly built, detailed world and a gripping story, as well thought-out as the greats, with images as haunting as a handmaid’s red cloak – the rabbit skull, the sheep wool caught in the fence deemed a sign from nature. No matter the size of the stage, audiences will still find themselves drawn into the world of the red beast, and, as always with a good dystopia, wanting to know more after the curtain goes down.

Foxfinder is at the Ambassador's Theatre until 5 January 2019.

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