Review: Foxtrot at the Edinburgh Fringe

Peter Thickett is drawn into a complex reflection on the dehumanisation of missing women at the Fringe

Credit: Jem Bosatta

9/10

Foxtrot, Anthony Maskell’s latest theatrical offering, is a challenging piece of writing that negotiates the fetishisation of female lost person cases in the media. In exploring the ways in which female victimhood is constructed in mainstream culture, Maskell invites us to confront our own complicity with the destruction of the individual. The narrative is loosely based on fragments before and after a girl’s disappearance. Unnamed and constantly recharacterised by different members of the cast, she remains out of reach—the shifting representation of an aspect of her gender.

The opening scene acts as a prologue to the series of vignettes that follow. Questioning the time it takes to announce a missing person presumed dead, the scene precipitates the conclusive thought of the piece—that their ‘deaths’ are, in some way, the deaths of their identities. The multi-role cast dexterously transition between comedy and sincerity, equally coloured with an uncomfortable darkness. Maskell’s approach to difficult topics such as sexual exploration in children is handled with sensitivity and intuitiveness. The often distressing nature of some of the scenes is never gratuitous, but deeply grounded in the motivation to challenge our perceptions of selfhood.

Clever juxtapositions of realism and comic absurdity create a distinct sense of the dystopian. Maintaining a fine line between the real and the imagined, Maskell forces the audience to engage with the, at times, bewilderingly decentred narrative. The blurring of these boundaries is in many ways the piece’s most striking attribute but makes it difficult to follow the ‘story’ of the singular lost girl. However, Foxtrot is not really a story about one girl, but rather a story of a destructive culture, a culture that perpetuates restrictive, reductive gender categories. This intelligent and innovative piece of writing requires the openness of the audience to be appreciated in its full capacity; once the superficial assumptions of narrativity are broken down this production holds strong as a piece of extremely accessible and intuitive theatre. Anna Nichols Pike’s perceptive set design, a Mondrianesque set of hanging frames overlapping to create smaller subsections, aptly captures the narrative structure—one where each scene, although distinct in itself, makes up part of a greater puzzle.

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Foxtrot has a tendency to leave structural devices unfinished. For example, the recurrent intermission of voicemail messages never really comes to a successful conclusion; doubtless a representation of how missing person cases rarely resolve. However, this constant negotiation between structure and meaning, whilst not straightforward, ultimately enriches this intriguing piece.

This is an accomplished piece of new writing delivered with style and finesse. I look forward to following Maskell’s work in the future.