Review - Foxfinder starring Iwan Rheon at the Ambassadors Theatre
Foxfinder, Dawn King’s 2011 Papatango-winning play, is a lesson in allegory – a subtly unsettling exploration of the fragility of belief. The script is seamless, a dystopian fable that hauntingly unfolds and rightly deserves its place on the West End stage. Although King is a master of her craft, this production of Foxfinder does somewhat miss the mark.
Greeted by Gary McCann’s superb set design, a house of Scandinavian simplicity that bleeds into a dark forest with towering trees and realistic dirt mounds, husband and wife Samuel (Paul Nicholls) and Judith (Heida Reed) Covey await the arrival of a 'foxfinder', William Bloor (Iwan Rheon). Foxfinders are trained from childhood in rooting out “the Beast”, the reason that society is crumbling. William has been sent to the couple’s farm to investigate a suspected contamination after it has been reported that they won’t meet their quota for the year.
Whether Foxfinder is a metaphor for religion, dictatorship, global warming, or something else, the fox as a scapegoat used to instil fear in the public is a theme that runs throughout the play. Ignoring the time Samuel spent in bed following the accidental death of Daniel, the Coveys’ only child, William chooses to conclude that foxes are to blame for them falling behind on their produce. His subsequent search for the vermin causes Samuel to descend into a state of delusion - wonderfully played out by Nicholls - Judith to enter into a horrific transaction with William, and their neighbour Sarah Box (Bryony Hannah) to commit a momentous betrayal.
Often, exchanges between Samuel and Judith are wooden, the only time Reed truly comes into her own is in scenes with Hannah, particularly when she helps Sarah hang children’s clothing on the washing line – a powerful reminder for her of the loss of her son. The mannerisms of Rheon’s character are too reminiscent of his Games of Thrones role, Ramsay Bolton. He is unable to adequately chart the 19-year-old Foxfinder’s gradual loss of belief and too many stumbled lines further weaken the performance.
With its intriguing mind games and twisted secrets, Foxfinder is meant to chill. Throughout, the tension seems to wobble just below where it should, and ripples of laughter from the audience in odd places, especially towards the close where William and Samuel face up to an invisible skulk of foxes, jar against the potential for horror. With the various conclusions that can be drawn from King’s fable, Foxfinder certainly leaves you questioning – the potential meaning of the play discussed long after exiting the auditorium. Stilted performances and ineffectual directorial choices sadly do not do the script justice and while the ideas provoked remain fresh in my mind, the acting does not.
Foxfinder tickets are available now.