“Nature is full of symbols…you just have to know how to interpret them”
Expectations are a tricky thing. One of the reasons I do like to see shows earlier in the run is that I can safely formulate my own opinion on things without too much chatter from elsewhere unduly influencing me. For I am terrible at accidentally borrowing ideas and phrases, mostly unintentionally!, and ending up responding to the reviews of others in the end, where I prefer this blog to more about how I react to the piece I’ve just seen. Sometimes though, I will let myself be guided by others when their recommendations of a certain piece of theatre, that I haven’t seen, become too big to ignore.
Such it was with Foxfinder at the Finborough. A play by Dawn King that won the 2011 Papatango New Writing Competition in conjunction with the Finborough, the word of mouth for this was overwhelmingly good and though I hadn’t intended to catch the show, a gap in the schedule for a Saturday matinée late in the run meant I could squeeze it in. The play is set in a dystopian England, a parallel world that reminded me a bit of the film Children of Men, where farmers are under strict orders to meet quotas to feed the people of the city who are forced to work in a much feared ‘factory’. Sam and Judith Covey’s farm is suffering from a suspected contamination though and as William, an inspector comes to investigate, he sets in chain a shattering set of events.
For in this strange world, the greatest threat to mankind is the fox, a huge mythology of fear built up around these animals and William is a ‘foxfinder’, a member of a cult-like government group who are trained or even brainwashed from childhood into this crack investigative team. As he probes into the Covey’s personal and professional lives, he uncovers substantial tragedy in their private lives which somehow seems intimately connected to the strange turn of events. Meanwhile neighbour Sarah is sceptical about how real the threat of foxes actually is but risks being severely punished for her beliefs and in trying to save her own skin, potentially jeopardises her friends.
Because the hype that had surrounded the play, I ended up being a little disappointed in the end. Not in a huge way, the first half of the play is really rather excellent in the way it hints and suggests and intimates the strangeness of this world, the unexplained has huge power here which is then undone slightly as the play progresses and becomes slightly more conventional, giving us explanations and rationalisations where I wanted the enigmatic air to continue. I was never not interested in what was going on, but I was King had been a little more daring in not conceding to a more traditional form towards the end.
Due to the constant vagaries of TFL, I arrived with minutes to spare and so didn’t have the choice of seats, I ended up in the single row of seats at the end of the mini thrust stage that James Perkins has managed to work into the intimate Finborough. It is a nifty bit of staging but rather annoyingly, director Blanche McIntyre seems to have conceived the show in traverse, as the blocking was really not designed for people sitting where we were. The final 10 minutes also had a dead rabbit hanging right in front of me, which occasionally got in the way of my watching the back of people.
Which is a shame, as much of McIntyre’s work here is exceptional, some of the best direction in the fringe or otherwise. The sweeping scene transitions keep an intense pace about the production, shadowy figures haunt every scene, Gary Bowman’s lighting is utilised beautifully, especially in the gorgeous uplit moments, it all combines to stunningly persuasive effect. So oddly enough, it was the production that left me the most impressed, rather than the writing, but altogether the darkly elegiac Foxfinder is a deserved success for both King and the Finborough.