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Review: Fox (Old Red Lion)

Rupert Hands directs Harrison Rose's debut play about a relationship spiralling out of control

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Harrison Rose's debut play is a fractured portrait of a fracturing relationship. Short scenes, some chronological skipping, and a little breaking-the-wall commentary come together in a scattergun, angsty retelling of a couple spiralling out of control. But watching two people tear each other apart is hardly a new blood sport, and while Fox features moments of tart insight, as a whole it isn't quite fresh or bold enough.

So boy meets girl. Stefan meets Rachel. He's an affable Welsh nerd, a romantic who writes bad love poems, who works for a company selling rat poison; she's confident, glamorous, gorgeous, but refuses to talk about her feelings even with her therapist (and never mind her job because it isn't relevant to the plot). Despite their obvious differences, he still can't believe his luck when she agrees to move in with him.

But Stefan has difficult neighbours: foxes. They scream all night, and soon neither are getting enough sleep. Add to that, they made a pact that she – a party animal who comes home late – is only allowed to wake him up… if it's for sex.

Rose's script plants all the seeds, and Rhys Whomsley and Amanda Vilanova tangle over each other like bindweed. He's appropriately endearing as Stefan, she's appropriately alluring as Rachel, and under Rupert Hands' direction there's a believable us-against-the-world initial intimacy followed by really vicious fights. The lop-sidedness of a relationship where one half drinks too much is also bitterly caught. But at times the characterisation goes too far, teeters on caricature: no-one's as dopily cute as he is, and no-one's as needlessly rude as her.

You'll notice it's that way round: Fox doesn't altogether avoid the common self-pitying pitfalls of masculine relationship drama. He is such a 'nice guy'. He resents her sociable ways, but only because he loves her so much! Of course this is presented as problematic, but her behaviour is so wildly selfish and self-destructive that the situation still seems pretty one-sided. She won't let him in emotionally, is all sexy and flirty with other people, is abrasive, aggressive, alcoholic…

And it's frustrating that the basis of this love seems to be that he considers her, physically, out of his league. I think Rose is aiming at something more genuine – and the performances are certainly heartfelt enough. But characters are not rounded out: we need more detail in what they see in each other, or she remains the all-too-common mysterious, unknowable dream woman.

True, Stefan turns out to be capable of Bad Things too – and Fox leaps towards the melodramatic and improbable at its close. It's a shame because Rose is good at letting tensions simmer – and the intrusions of the screaming, screwing foxes, which could be symbolically clanging, actually really work. Pared down, this could be a rom-com that twists into something ominous and taut.

Vilanova and Whomsley occasionally break out to wryly comment on the action, a technique with the potential to raise doubts about who's telling the truth, to play with the mythologizing of relationships. But the conceit is under-used and under-developed. The production also often deploys jarring voice-over for other characters; much better allowing the actors to simply step into other roles.

There's promise in the writing, and two gutsy performance in Fox, but while it bares its teeth it never quite sinks them in deep enough.

Fox runs at The Old Red Lion until 14 October.