Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh
Dawn King’s Foxfinder is a gem of a play: it’s serious and playful with an awful lot to say. Set in the near future, the Britain we see here is a dreadful place, a dystopia where people are ruled by fear, and where foxes are the enemy. Sam and Judith Covey, whose farm is underperforming after a difficult year, are visited by Foxfinder William Bloor, sent to ensure there are no foxes on their land. If any are found, the consequences will be dire.
Master of None’s Fringe production is a bit of a gem too. The opening, where Sam (Hugo Nicolson) and Judith (Verity Mullan Wilkinson) are waiting anxiously for the Foxfinder to arrive, is beautifully done: the set, costume and lighting cleverly hinting at a bygone time, making explicit the connection with the witchfinders of old. This is reinforced by the arrival of Bloor, whose silhouetted, hatted figure looms menacingly at the door. When the lights go up and the actors move, the more contemporary setting is revealed – and it’s a relief… until we realise what’s going on.
William Bloor is the most interesting character: he is young, idealistic – and troubled. He has too much power and too little insight; he’s not mature enough to realise the truth of what he does. Indoctrinated since the age of five, he is a vulnerable and dangerous man – and Alex Stutt performs the role with charm and subtlety. He is utterly convincing as the conflicted Foxfinder, confused and disgusted by his sexual desires, and unswerving in his hatred of the evil, cunning fox.
This is a multi-faceted play, where the simple plot belies the myriad allegories. Foxes here are scapegoats for all society’s ills – they represent witches and devils, but the way they are treated aligns them with the persecuted too. This young theatre company clearly relishes the complexity, and their performances lay bare the toll such propaganda takes. Zoe Zak is particularly engaging as neighbour Sarah Box, who is forced to confront the limits of her own morality: will she, Stasi-like, inform on her neighbours to protect herself?
The direction is strong, although there is perhaps a little too much stage traffic at times, with a few unnecessary entrances and exits, but, all in all, this is definitely one to watch.