By Laura Ings Self
In many ways Dawn King’s Foxfinder is the perfect play for the BLT bar. Set in a dystopian future, it is a dark tale filled with intrigue and the unsettling sensation that the characters are not always being completely honest. The idea of a futuristic Big Government closely monitoring its citizens feels eerily replicated by the audience in close quarters, almost breathing down the actors’ necks. In other ways, however, the play provided challenges in the confined space of the bar. Frequent scene changes to various locations, for example, involved alterations to the set that elongated the pauses between scenes.
In the world King has created, families are kept in check through fear of the mythical fox: a fearsome beast with enormous teeth; a harbinger of bad luck; an insidious psychic force that can influence the mind. Rumours abound that foxes have been completely eradicated, but anyone caught spreading this kind of revolutionary propaganda is swiftly dealt with by the authorities.
Sam and Judith Covey are struggling to keep their farm afloat after the death of their son and Sam’s subsequent depression, both of which they have kept hidden from the authorities. William Bloor is the Foxfinder sent to inspect their property and their lives. Taken from their parents aged five and raised by “The Institute”, Foxfinders are trained with religious fervour to detect the presence of foxes around farms that are failing to meet their government-imposed quota. Religious extremism echoes in the belief in the demonic fox as well as the shocking scene of self-mortification we witness Bloor performing. As Bloor’s indoctrinated faith wavers, Sam seizes on the concept of the fox as the villain – removing any responsibility from his own shoulders for the death of his son or the failure of his farm – and becomes obsessed with slaughtering the mythical beast.
As Sam, Matt Sharp took us on a well-observed journey from the morose and distant husband to the mania, psychosis and dark obsession that results in the death of Bloor. Matt played Sam with a brooding air that created suspicion and kept us as distant from him as he kept his wife. Matt brought a very believable energy to Sam’s descent into frenzied madness, taking us on a thrilling, if terrifying, ride to the inevitable dénouement.
Megan McGery brought a brilliant combination of tenderness and strength to Judith. We could see the toll that running the farm singlehandedly had taken on Jude, yet she still had compassion for both her husband and the strange young man who was suddenly in their midst. Megan’s performance took us through a range of emotions and, despite her young age, she brought a maternal resilience to the part that heightened the Oedipal nature of Bloor’s tortured attraction to Judith. This created a stark contrast to Judith’s weaker moments, in particular the scene where Bloor attacked and blackmailed her, when Megan gave us a beautiful portrayal of vulnerability.
As Bloor, BLT newcomer Alex Scotchbrook was the epitome of repression and indoctrination. His rigidity and uptight attention to detail with the inspection of the farm were beautifully contrasted by scenes in which we came to understand the doubt that was plaguing him, whilst the hints at his attraction to Judith were skillfully played out. The chemistry was exceptional not only between Bloor and Judith, but also between him and Sam, as hapless Bloor was swept along by Sam’s obsession with the dogma that Bloor had begun to reject.
Heather Phelps, another newcomer to BLT, brought a quiet and assured compassion to the role of Sarah Box, the Covey’s friend and neighbour. Her easy and longstanding friendship with Judith was clear to see and the panic when Bloor threatened her own family’s livelihood was perfectly portrayed.
The sound and lighting deserve a particularly big mention. Emma Christmas and Matt Sharp’s slick lighting design helped us to travel around the Covey’s farm and the surrounding woodland at various times of day and night – no easy feat in the BLT bar – and the sound design was perfectly pitched to match the tension and eerie mythology of the Foxfinder world. Sound effects helped to build a picture of the outdoor scenes and music between scenes had a mystical, supernatural theme. Stevie Hughes’ direction was strong and his vision for the piece was clear. Once again, BLT has produced an exceptional piece of theatre.