Foxfinder

Tue 29th October – Sat 2nd November 2013

reviews

Veronica Heney

at 18:26 on 30th Oct 2013

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Dystopian settings, both in fiction and in theatre, are easily sloppy. Without care, they can become hackneyed rip-offs of '1984', cliché-ridden, and lacking in the tension they intrinsically promise. Foxfinder fell into none of these traps; it was subtle, moving and gripping throughout.

Sam and Judith (played by Leo Suter and Phoebe Hames respectively) are struggling farmers, in a society where food is scares, and production is strictly monitored by a government. Their already difficult existence, as they try to make their ‘quota’ while moving on from the death of their young son, is made even more stressful by the arrival of William (Nick Finerty), a ‘foxfinder’. Educated in a government institution, he is duty bound to search out foxes, believed to have extraordinary powers and to be the source of all England’s woes, and those who ‘collaborate’ with them. As he investigates the couple the fissures in their relationship become apparent, as do the weaknesses in the official government narrative of life, which leave even William doubting.

The script itself was solid, if not utterly original – the plot was fairly predictable, if you’re familiar with this sort of thing. However in the hands of this extremely able team, this rough stone was polished until it fairly gleamed. To begin with the set (designed by Alejandra Albuerne), although simple, was extremely effective, and immediately conveyed the essence of Sam and Judith’s bleak yet homely existence. Furthermore, excellent use was made of sound effects, including rain and bird song, to create the atmosphere of the countryside, and the lighting (by Alex Bucknall) was similarly well done. The costumes were understated, but well-suited to the characters, and also played a part in the successful establishing of a rural, rustic existence. All in all, a thoroughly slick and well-thought-out production.

However the real highlight of the play was the consistently excellent performances from the three central characters. Suter, Hames, and Finerty all gave knock-out performances; all three were strong straight out of the gate and it only got better from there. Hames’ Judith was warm and yet tough, caring and instantly likeable. Her chemistry with Suter was utterly believable, and she managed convey strength of feeling without becoming at any point melodramatic. Suter’s Sam was more the strong-and-silent type, an unpolished, bluntly spoken man. However we soon learn of his depression following the death of his son, and the scene in which he relates the story of his death was particularly moving, one of the best of the whole show. Finally, Finerty, playing a character obviously both repressed and indoctrinated, gave a performance which was distinctive and detailed, and yet which at all times avoided becoming a caricature. A ‘socially awkward’ figure always runs that risk, but Finerty managed to ensure that William remained at all times a very human figure. No mean feat.

Finally it is worth pointing out that on top of all this, the actors had evidently been well directed by Sam Ward as the staging was unfailingly well thought-out. The humour of the play was brought out to great effect, a pleasant surprise given the subject matter, and yet the underlying tension was at no point lost. The pacing was good throughout; I was thoroughly gripped, and at no point felt even the slightest desire to glance at my watch.

I have only two slight quibbles. Firstly, that the beginning of the second half, due to frequent scene changes, was a little disjointed, and so it took a while before the urgency of the previous half was regained. Secondly, the performance stage itself was small, and placed in the corner of the rather large space in the Keble O’Reilly, with chairs arranged at a right angle, along both sides. While I managed to nab a seat at the corner, and so felt like I was getting the full experience, I am a little concerned that those towards the edges may have had a considerably more limited view. Given the extensive space available, this seemed a little unnecessary.

However, nevertheless, this was still an extraordinary production. In fact, from where I was sitting, it was probably one of the best I’ve seen in Oxford. If you don’t see it you’ll be missing out on something rather special.

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