A dark vision of a society plagued by paranoia is conveyed by Dawn King in her 2011 play Foxfinder, revived in a disappointing new production directed by Rachel O'Riordan, at the Ambassadors Theatre in London.
Samuel and Judith Covey are arable farmers battling against both failing crops and their own grief, following the loss of their young son, reportedly drowned. In these troubling times, they find themselves under investigation by William Bloor a dedicated "foxfinder", trained from the age of five to hunt out the fox with an almost religious zeal. Bloor's fixation on the fox as the root of all man’s troubles leads to manipulation, guilt and ultimate retribution.
The plot twists and turns as we navigate our way through a sequence of deceit, betrayal, blackmail and madness. Indeed, the intriguing premise of the play and sinister first few minutes led me to believe I was in for an imaginative and suspenseful thriller. But the production fails to generate enough claustrophobia and tension and the ending is something of a cop-out.
Gary McCann’s set is suitably dark and foreboding with trees encroaching on the Covey’s farmhouse kitchen, but as the exterior scenes are played out before a cheap looking painted cloth, and the action feels cluttered and lacking atmosphere. The furniture is minimalist and bare, reflecting the bleak, dystopian world in which the audience is immersed.
Iwan Rheon best-known for playing the murderous manipulator Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones, seems a strange choice to embody a callow 19-year-old as the obsessive young interloper William Bloor, but he manages to capture the character’s mix of pedantic rigour and fanaticism, including an urge to whip himself, while Icelandic actress and Poldark star Heida Reed convinces as his vulnerable prey Judith Covey, and Ackley Bridge’s Paul Nicholls makes his mark as her benighted farmer husband Samuel, and Bryony Hannah, from Call the Midwife brings a touch of vivacity as the defiant neighbour Sarah.
It is a play, though, that instead of gathering momentum as it goes along, the play loses its grip and the overall impression is of a laboured parable about the need to seek out scapegoats for society’s ills.
Plays at the Ambassadors Theatre until Saturday 5 January 2019.