Edinburgh Fringe 2015
The Covey’s farm is under threat from seizure by a state hell-bent on ruling through the politics of fear and the certainties of its fundamentalist beliefs. But where is the enemy the state is telling its people to run in fear from? Has anyone actually seen a fox?
Distant birdsong mixes with a repeating, haunting refrain. A man stares blankly into the distance. His wife sits forlornly at a substantial kitchen table. With England on the brink of collapse, the Government has identified what it claims to be the true enemy – the red fox. A foxfinder is coming to investigate a suspected vulpine infestation at Samuel and Judith Covey’s farm, the alleged cause of everything from poor crop yields to mental health and, yes, even the weather.
Dawn King’s play, winner of the Papatango playwriting competition, premiered back in 2011, chills the blood from its harrowing opening. Nineteen year-old foxfinder William Bloor, who’s been in training for this role and living a monastic-like, self-flagellating existence at the Institute since the age of five, floats over the horizon to haunt the every move of those he is required to report on. Machine-gun, binary questions pour forth as he seeks to establish whether vulpine are likely to be present. No subject is too sensitive, no avenue of investigation ignored. Bloor’s obsession leads friends to betray one another and drives an innocent man to the point of mental implosion.
King’s work is a strong parable, reminiscent at times of Miller’s Crucible as Bloor seeks the evidence to back his predetermined belief that this farm is infested, must therefore become the property of the Government and its occupants despatched to urban slavery in a state factory. But there’s a moral tale in here as well. Mankind is irrationally insistent on identifying scapegoats to blame for each of its many current travails and the unseen fox perhaps symbolises this. And King’s pitch-black humour enhances the unnerving realism that pervades throughout the piece – chickens have to be fed, leeks dug up, the winter crop planted.
Uniformly strong performances from each of the four characters and ethereal lighting and sound reinforce the rather frightening and, at times, threatening nature of the work. And with a denouement that was as dramatic as it was unexpected, it’s a piece that is apt to linger a bit in the mind, especially if your journey home was, like mine, along dark country lanes.