Four Stars

In the midst of a dystopian, apocalyptic future, as humanity is flooded with famine, fear, and ferocious foxes, William and Judith are discussing the weather. It is probably going to rain: well, this is England, after all. Dawn King’s Foxfinder plunges us into a dark tale of deeply nuanced allegory, grounded in a familiar world of laundry and leek-farming – and it is this heterogeneity which makes the play so riveting.

Foxfinder is ruthlessly tense, from its foreboding beginnings to the bitter end. As the audience shuffle in, married couple Samuel and Judith Covey (Leo Suter and Phoebe Hames) are already onstage, waiting uneasily in their isolated home in the West Country for William Bloor (Nick Finerty) to arrive. He is a foxfinder, and he’s come to search their farm for contamination with these sly devils.

Foxes can ‘disembowel a grown man with their claws’, William is keen to assert – and that’s not all. Foxes are the cause of bad harvests, bad weather, and they can even scrabble their way into your dreams. In fact, the entire nation’s calamity can be neatly pinned on ‘the enemy within’. Strange, then, that a fox hasn’t been sighted for years.

From afar, this might look like an obvious enough parable for fascist fear-mongering, but Foxfinder manages to remain surprisingly open to interpretation. The fox becomes a symbol for sexual desire and for fundamentalism, and the play is anti-communist and anti-capitalist all at once. The broadness of the metaphor might actually become distancing, if it weren’t for its remarkably gifted cast, who keep the story solidly rooted to the ground.

With glassy eyes and a peroxide-blonde crop, Bloor literally shines as the brainwashed puppet of the governmental Institution, spouting a neurotic creed of self denial: ‘Hunger is a suitable reminder of the spectre of starvation that haunts our land!’ His mechanical movements and strained smiles create an unnerving inhumanity – but, when he awkwardly stutters and stumbles through an amusingly detailed interrogation of Judith’s ‘intercourse’ habits, we see flashes of a teenage insecurity which remind us that the foxfinder is only nineteen.

Suter brings depth and tragedy to Sam’s taciturn nature through moments of emotion: his measured, skeletal speech finally cracks under the pressure of describing his young son’s recent death. Eventually the lure of an all-applicable scapegoat entices Sam to madness, as he fanatically hunts for spectral foxes that can lift the blame of his son’s loss from his own shoulders. Hames’ touchingly kind stoicism renders her the play’s moral compass, and Carla Kingham makes neighbour Sarah’s bitingly taut and guilt-ridden betrayal of the Coveys my favourite moment of the play.

As the phantom of the fox flits between the characters, causing betrayal, doubt, and despair, it becomes clear that this is a claustrophobic tragedy with no escape from its inexorable doom. By the second half, you’ll be itching for relief – but, when it’s finally over, desperate to be back again tomorrow.

Foxfinder is playing at the Keble O’Reilly until Saturday 2nd November. Tickets are available here