WE live in difficult times, when it often seems as though common sense and human decency are concepts of the past.
Dawn King’s award winning play Foxfinder, set in a not-too-distant future, is a frightening glimpse at where we might be headed in this time of faux-scientific governmental advice and “reality” star world leaders.
In King’s England, a conflation of 1984 and The Crucible, children are taken from parents and trained as enforcers. Farmers hold their tenancies only if they fulfil their quotas. Factory workers have a three-year life expectancy. Food is rigidly rationed.
And the current scapegoat is The Fox.
The play opened in London, but for those of us living in rural areas it has perhaps an even greater relevance. You might have noticed how countrypeople always give the definite article to Vulpes Vulpes – “The Fox got the chickens” they’ll say, as though there was only one.
Foxfinder cleverly utilises these inherent fears to paint a society in which foxes have been eradicated, but are still dreaded and blamed not only for crop failure, floods and droughts but for all human mental frailty … the sly old fox will get into your dreams and into your brain.
So the Foxfinders are sent out in the land to find the last remaining vulpine colonies, and if one happens to be on your farm, woe is you.
The play, in many short scenes, is set on the Covey farm and its surroundings. Samuel and Judith, fighting for survival in a rain-sodden year following a family tragedy, are visited by William Bloor, a 19-year-old Foxfinder. His job is to find fox infestation, in the guise of helping the farmers.
For all his rigorous training in self-denial (that’s food, warmth, comfort, sex and affection) he is a child, unable to express or make sense of his own undeniable feelings.
The play illustrates brilliantly the insidious possibility of brain-washing, here effectively applied to the men while the women fight incredible odds to maintain some common-sense.
Ian White’s spare direction depends on an exceptional cast, and has it in Pete Fernandez as the guilt-ridden Samuel, Sarah Easterbrook as the strong and loving Judith, Stella Davies as neighbour Sarah and especially the mesmerising Oliver Delafeld as Bloor.
It is not an easy play in any way, challenging its audience to say “this could NEVER happen”. The Swan regulars, too few of them, seemed to be searching for laughs and finding them in inappropriate places, but fear will do that.
There is just one moment when Foxfinder tips into the totally unbelievable, but for the most part it could be a horribly prophetic warning. It’s a short time since the early sci-fi novels and films were incredible fantasies. Now they are reality.
Ian White and his cast have taken a brave step bringing this important new play to Yeovil. Go and see it if you can. The production continues to Saturday 24th September, nightly at 7.45.
Footnote: The versatile and enterprising Swan Theatre Company in Yeovil has a well-deserved reputation for the range of its productions and the skill of its actors, so it was sad to see so many empty seats for the opening of Foxfinder, the first play of the 2016-17 season.
I fear that an increasing reliance on “social media” to promote shows – likely caused by lack of interest from conventional media in anything not accompanied by ever more expensive advertising – will see this replicated across the country, but it is particularly disappointing in Yeovil, whose astonishing depth of performing talent is legendary in the region.