The universe of Foxfinder is darkly original…and yet worryingly familiar. Britain, facing apocalyptic food shortages and finding solace in superstition, has fallen under the rule of a theocratic dictatorship which blames foxes (supposedly gifted with supernatural, devilish abilities) for the catastrophe.
Austere ‘foxfinders’ with sweeping powers are sent to investigate unproductive farms, to root out the cause. There are elements of Ceausescu in its enforced population growth, of Stalinist agrarianism in the collectivisation of farms, but nonetheless this is a quintessentially British dystopia. Judith and Samuel are the subject of one of the assessments of a foxfinder, William. His harsh pronunciation clashes with their gentle Somerset accents; where they are down to earth, he is angular, flighty, even childish. William’s chaste, ascetic life comes increasingly to the fore as the play progresses, his suppressed desires inflamed by the powers bestowed upon him.
There are strong performances all round, particularly that of the inquisitorial William, eyes bright with the awkward sincerity and conviction of Graham Greene’s Quiet American. He flicks between adolescent shyness and dogmatic principle with disturbing speed, which is particularly perverse during his questioning of Judith’s sex life. For all his earnestness and authority, though, his youth is evident – he is intimidated by the older Samuel’s burly masculinity, and his questions betray deep-seated insecurity. The action is static and the set sparing, notching up the dialogue’s tension and giving a strange, claustrophobic feel to the rural environment. Above all, this modern-day witch-hunt has an overwhelming sense of dread and bleakness. Judith is homely, helpful, but increasingly jittery, while her husband is monosyllabic, brooding and almost openly hostile towards the intruder. Superstition, belief and desire collide in an atmosphere of hysteria and paranoia in this compelling play. Not one to miss.
Foxfinder is writer Dawn King’s first play, and is showing at the Keble O’Reilly Theatre on Tuesday 29th October at 7.30pm. Tickets £9/£7, available here.