Crazy like a fox

Rating: 3


by Georgina Brown

It’s quite a coup for an unknown playwright to be given a West End production with a quartet of big telly names. But then there’s something about Dawn Kking’s disturbing, dystopian drama, Foxfinder, that speaks directly to our troubled, mistrustful times.

In a cottage buried deep beneath beautiful Birch Woods, somewhere in England, anxious farmers Samuel (Paul Nicholls from Grantchester) and Judith (Poldark’s glamorous Heida Reed) are struggling. The weather’s ‘gone bad’ – rain hasn’t stopped for months. But farming worries give way to something more ominous when a washed- out, pointy-faced, 19-year-old (Iwan Rheon from Game of Thrones) named William Bloor moves in, uninvited, and the couple find themselves under investigation. From the get-go, Bloor is a weirdo whose peculiar ideas emerge with the stiffness of an automaton. He won’t let anyone touch his suitcase, self-flagellates every evening, refuses food as ‘a reminder of the spectre of the hunger that haunts our land’ and insists that they are the victims of an infestation of foxes. Not that he – or anyone else round here, for that matter – has ever seen one.

Of course, the play is an allegory for the way in which we all seek something or someone to blame for our fears and misfortunes, but I wish King had focused on a less familiar creature than old Basil Brush. As a sometime owner of chickens, I have witnessed the explosion of feathers left in the hen-house, courtesy of a visit from a frequently visible and dastardly Mr Fox – or, more likely, a very hungry Mrs Fox with cubs to feed. They are clever and cruel. But can you imagine them as a sinister force deployed by an unnamed authority to mess with the climate, sway people’s minds and even lure samuel and rachel’s four-year- old son to his death by drowning in mud? It didn’t work for me.

To begin with, Samuel is similarly sceptical, refusing to see a rabbit skull found facing in a particular direction as the ‘message’ Bloor insists it to be. Still, little by little, as the tension mounts, albeit too slowly, in Rachel O’Riordan’s production, the paranoia proves contagious, the brain-washing irresistible. There are echoes of Arthur Miller’s the crucible when Bloor’s fox-hunting fixation causes kind neighbour Sarah (Bryony Hannah, the sweet one in call the midwife) to betray her friends and, finally, when Nicholls’ soulful Samuel is driven over the edge. There’s much to enjoy in Gary McCann’s watery designs of willowy birch trees and the home-spun, cosy, toast-style chic of the costumes. too much, perhaps. What’s missing is the inexplicable but palpable fear that haunts all humankind.

Ambassadors Theatre, London WC2: 020-7395 5405, www.theambassadors