Left – David Whiteley and Jonanne Trentini. Cover – Joanne Trentini and Rosie Lockhart. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson
Foxes have long held a potently symbolic place in the human imagination: they are seen as cunning, treacherous and destructive predators which will eat anything, as well as standing in for an untamed and irresistable female sexuality – the vixen. UK playwright Dawn King uses the historical concept of the fox's power to inform her play, Foxfinder, winner of the Papatango New Writing competition and on the shortlist for the James Tait Black Prize, Britain's oldest literary award. The story is set in a nightmarish rural England facing starvation with failing crops and eternally hostile weather. Farms failing to meet their 'quota' are possessed by the State and farming families sent to work in factories, where it is common knowledge that workers survive for only three years at the most.
Reason, along with foxes, is nearly extinguished – the animals are blamed for everything that is going wrong: the weather, starvation, madness, death and sedition, and a bureacratic system of investigation conducts 'witch hunts' among farming communities for potential 'contamination'. Samuel (played by Red Stitch's out-going artistic director, David Whitely) and Judith (Rosie Lockhart) are good country folk, struggling with their own tragedy as well as an underperforming farm. When Foxfinder William Bloor (Matthew Whitty) arrives they try to appease him yet stand firm in their knowledge there are scarcely any foxes left. Samuel, already fragmenting with grief, moves into a state of mental desperation where certainty and superstition gradually replace his belief in his own perceptions; his world-view and that of William overtake each other with grimly inevitable results.
Foxfinder makes all sorts of parallels with issues of today – totalitarianim, fundamentalism, fearmongering, scapegoating, hatred of the other, government lies leading to war – in a tightly constructed narrative. The strong characterisation of the brainwashed William coming to an understanding of the lies and terror he is promulgating contrasted with the mental disintegration of Samuel make for powerful tension.
Foxfinder is a classic, well-structured work, a parable of social repression, delusion and totalitarianism along the lines of 1984, Lord of The Flies and The Crucible. It is destined to be on the reading list on every school drama course as it does everything a good play should do. Red Stitch's production, directed by Kat Henry, supports the work utilising a relentlessly rainy, dimly lit set where you can practically feel the cold and misery suffered by the characters.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Dawn King
Director Kat Henry
Venue: Red Stitch Theatre | Rear 2, Chapel St, St Kilda VIC
Dates: 19 July – 17 August, 2013
Tickets: $39 – $27
Bookings: www.redstitch.net | 03 9533 8083