It’s taken a long time for Foxfinder to reach the West End. It first played in 2011 at the Finborough Theatre in South West London and received high critical acclaim, even winning the playwright Dawn King a National Theatre Foundation Award in 2013.
Now in its new home at the Ambassadors Theatre, you can see why. It’s an interesting idea. Set in a dystopian version of England, foxes are believed to be the root of all the country’s problems, for failing farms and starving factory workers. William Bloor is a Foxfinder, investigating Samuel and Judith Covey, grieving parents whose farm is struggling and perhaps under the influence of those slyest of mammals, who can bring down the government and cause, amongst other things, sexual deviance.
But whilst it is such a good idea, the execution in this production, however, falls just a little short.
To King’s credit, the world certainly feels whole enough to be real, the pared-back but detailed set design only adding to the sense of gloom and isolation in the unnamed countryside the Coveys inhabit. But it peters off towards the end, to the point where perhaps it might have been best to not have an interval and run the play straight through to make the most of the pacing. The play is relatively short, after all, running at only two hours, including interval.
Similarly, with the exception of Bryony Hannah as Judith’s seditious friend Sarah, who is note-perfect, the reactions of the characters to what’s happening around them is not fully drawn out. When Bloor, played competently by Iwan Rheon, starts to doubt the fox-fearing doctrine he’s been brought up with, there is no real meltdown of a man whose beliefs are falling apart around him. Instead, he is more preoccupied with forcing Judith (Heida Reed) to sleep with him.
It’s an odd turn, especially when considering that up until this point, Rheon and Reed’s chemistry had been good, their acting at its best when in scenes together. Rheon manages to convey well his character’s need for a mother and attraction to the comforting presence of Judith, a woman whose life seems to be holding together her home and family, even when that family is tragically reduced from three to two.
Everything seems to be good, up to a certain point. The actors are all good, but just a shade miscast which stops them from being as great as they could be. Rheon, who plays Bloor’s peculiar shade of oddness well, mostly lacks the youthfulness his role requires.
Reed, likewise, is great, but the sense of resigned practicality that she gives to her character is almost lost and instead leaves the audience guessing about the grief she feels over the loss of her son.
Paul Nicholls as her husband Samuel is very good but (and it’s perhaps not his fault, but, again, more the fault of the play’s pacing) his descent into fox-finding madness, out of a desire for absolution over his son’s death, feels a little abrupt and not nearly as ominous as it should as the play closes.
It’s a compelling play, but it just needs something more.
Reviewed by Laura Stanley
Photo: Pamela Raith Photography