The rural setting is terse and acerbic, evoking influences from Cold Comfort Farm through Straw Dogs to Kafka, and Dawn King can only be commended for her taut, nigh-on-flawless script – evocatively realised by director Blanche McIntyre and the true stellar cast.
The story at first seems plausible – a government official, in charge of finding foxes (which disrupt farming practices), visits a rural farm on the possibility of an 'infestation'. However, it soon becomes clear that the fox is not just the vulpine intruder itself, but a metaphor for any number of pre-conceived ills – a possibly fictional bogeyman used to keep the population in check. As the foxfinder and the farmers start to question their own understanding of what the fox is, events take a nightmarish turn for the worse, leaving us with more questions than answers as the curtain falls.
What may sound a little heavy-handed at a distance is everything but, mostly due to the strong writing within the piece – the country setting allows allegory to develop slowly in a truly timeless environment, with no hints of time or place. This is, at first, a little confusing, but this universality becomes the piece's strongest quality – the foxfinder's search for a scapegoat ranges from a representation of repressed sexuality through to a political parable of current events without skipping a beat, and the audience is dragged along relentlessly.
Played on a very long thrust, the audience is viscerally close to the action – at no point better realised than when rabbits are baited, very nearly hanging in the audience's eyes, and a shotgun is loaded – drawing focus into the smallest of expressive details. This closeness allows for delightfully subtle performances and long, nerve-wracking silences, details captured by the restrained, yet elegant set, sound and lighting designs.
Tom Byam Shaw, fresh from his turn as Ariel to Ralph Fiennes' Prospero, is marvellous as the foxfinder, slipping between youthful enthusiasm and tortured monasticism with balletic elegance, and Gyuri Sarossy and Kirsty Besterman also excel as the gruff, repressed farmer and his fragile and tense wife.
Simply put, this show is little short of flawless – as a piece of writing, it thrills, and the production has realised all thematic aspects of the piece clearly and subtly, without straying into the crass or zealous production lesser directors would have delivered. This parable works best at its most oblique, and one can only hope that future directors have the same tact. A truly terrific production, and an absolute must-see.
- Chris Hislop