Foxfinder, Finborough Theatre, London (4/5)
Thursday 15 December 2011
There hasn't been a bumper yield of great new plays this year, but now, at the eleventh hour, comes this spell-binding dystopian parable by Dawn King.
The winner of the 2011 Papatango New Writing competition, the piece is realised with an absolute imaginative authority in Blanche McIntyre's tense, darkly atmospheric production which is performed on a narrow thrust stage of bare boards at the Finborough.
We are in an alternative or near-future England where the “red beast” has become public enemy number one, held responsible for everything from the worsening weather and the failure of the crops to the manipulation of people's dreams. Samuel and Judith have had a dreadful year. He was unable to work after the accidental death by drowning of their toddler son. Inability to meet the production quota, in a world of rations and scarcity, has brought their farm under suspicion of vulpine contamination. Hence the visit from young William Bloor, one of the “foxfinders” who have been intensively and monastically trained for the job from an early age.
Tom Byam Shaw gives an astonishing performance as this ascetic, fastidiously-spoken youth, arousing both terror and compassion with his eerie aura of brain-washed, other-worldly rigour and the fleeting hints you get of repressed distress, frustration and doubt. When alone, he indulges in bouts of self-flagellation and of chanting the credo of his masters. Kirsty Besterman is deeply sympathetic as Judith, a decent, intelligent woman who knows there are no foxes and can see through the twisted logic of a totalitarian regime which holds that the lack of any sightings is proof positive of the beast's especially pernicious slyness and that any show of disagreement amounts to collaboration with the foe.
This is not a new subject for drama (one thinks of the witch hunt in The Crucible) but it is developed here with an extraordinary purity of focus and a dreadful inexorability that does not preclude many surprising twists and turns before the predestined end. The irony is that the contaminator is William himself, his zeal infecting Gyuri Sarossy's troubled, glaring-eyed Samuel for whom imagined foxes and their mind-altering powers become a way of displacing his guilt about the death of his little boy. There's superb, creepy cross-lighting by Gary Bowman and an excellent, harsh and expertly unnerving sound design from George Dennis. All the elements of the production works with a rare creative coherence that will leave this play lodged in one's mind forever.
TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre