William is a foxfinder. The play opens on a dystopian England, where foxes are scapegoats for failing crops. A fox hasn’t been seen since a government cull a decade before; since then, the species has become steeped in superstition. Foxfinders are ‘selected’ at the age of five and trained in almost monastic institutions, deprived of food, sex and temptation.
William (Nick Finerty) is the audience’s window into the existence of one such foxfinder. He’s been sent to the farm of Judith (Phoebe Hames), to look for ‘signs’. Judith is desperate: if the authorities decide the farm has been corrupted by foxes, she will be sent to a camp and her farm taken away.
William’s status is quasi-religious; his methods reminiscent of exorcism or witch-hunting. The court proceedings of The Crucible occasionally echo in his words: he can decide a farm has been infected by foxes without any proof. Signs like sexual deviancy among humans or even objects at certain angles to each other can alert him to the presence of this unseen enemy.
In the scene I was shown, Judith and William warily converse in her West Country farmhouse. Judith is interested by how little William eats, by his upbringing, by the fact that his parents gave him up so young. Finerty parrots the phrases his character has been taught with unnerving conviction. “Hunger is a suitable reminder of the spectre of starvation that haunts our land.” William’s ‘house father’ was there to instil discipline; England is the only mother he needs. Ironically for someone brought up without a father, Finerty plays William with a healthy dose of ‘awkward dad’.
The foxfinder is required to sniff out sexual deviancy between Judith and her husband: Finerty is like a country pastor whose duties suddenly include asking his congregation whether they regularly have sex doggy style. “Do you…have sex…face to face? Or..?” William and Judith are face to face themselves, alternately making and breaking eye contact. Finerty’s cheeks redden with impressive speed, his head bent over a sheet of official questions on the table. Hames stirs her casserole determinedly, her eyes dart in every direction but his. “And…is it good?” This question, asked with sincere curiosity, is clearly not on his list.
The foxfinder has his own issues of sexual and emotional repression to work through, in an country that has domineered his life and moulded him into a bumbling figure of authority. Hames and Finerty’s mutual interest is sweet, and the slight wariness they display is believable. Awkwardness is easy to act but often overdone: the direction doesn’t fall into the trap of creating lazy, over-long pauses. Hames and Finerty have a clear rapport, and the single scene I saw definitely piqued my interest: Foxfinder looks like a strong addition to an already impressive 3rd week.
Foxfinder is on at the Keble O’Reilly from Tuesday 29th October to Saturday 2nd November. Tickets cost £7/£9 and are available here