For the opening chunk of Foxfinder I thought I’d stumbled on a Kafka/Archers mash-up the world probably didn’t need. By the end, I was pretty sure I’d seen something that got to the heart of something really interesting and hard to articulate around fascism and masculinity, and did so without doing a disservice to men at large.
Even if it didn’t pull that off, something seriously impressive was going on in a small space upstairs at Lace Market Theatre. The rafters overhead give Dawn King’s play a rustic feel, entirely appropriate to a tale of a broken couple living in a farm grieving the loss of their son, and visited by a government official looking for evidence of foxes on their land.
There’s a sense of bruised air between Malcolm Todd and Kareena Sims, trying without it being spoken to find ways of dealing with death while needing to make their farm work. The consequences if they don’t are severe. With AJ Stevenson as the official, it’s apparent that we’re not in the world we usually inhabit, but one that’s a folk horror take on 1984, with the foxfinder’s job to discover proof of the predators.
I was pretty sure I’d seen something that got to the heart of something really interesting and hard to articulate around fascism and masculinity
I don’t intend to spoil what happens, but things take a turn for the dark, and big questions about power and authority bubble beneath the text, like the way you might see traces of the path of a fox in a field through crops it disturbs. Todd’s character – Samuel – is grounded, but his world has already been overturned by losing his son, and the presence of the foxfinder uproots him at a point he needs connection with his land.
The foxfinder has the zeal of all true believers, determined to impose a system that will cause further pain for husband and wife, in the service of an ideology that’s already driven him mad, and takes him to becoming just the kind of monster he imagines foxes to be. It’s their neighbour – played by Emily Kelsey – who doesn’t believe in foxes, a heresy which teases at how patriarchy is constructed and maintained. Like the rest of the play, it’s done with a lightish touch and mordant humour.
You’ll know if this is something you might want to check out. Direction and acting are invisible much of the time - no bad thing. Perhaps a bit too much use was made of fragments of folk songs, but that’s a minor quibble.
Foxfinder is at Lace Market Theatre until September 14