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Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre review - too ponderous by half | reviews, news & interviews

Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre review - too ponderous by half

Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre review - too ponderous by half

One time fringe success flounders in West End upgrade

A foxfinder calls: Iwan Rheon has the title role in Dawn King parablePamela Raith

A sizeable Off West End success nearly eight years ago looks more than a little exposed in a new, scaled-up production that is one of several shows on now, or imminently, to feature a Game of Thrones actor in a leading role.

The particular TV name in this instance is Iwan Rheon, an Olivier Award-winner back in 2010 for the musical Spring Awakening seen here to be rather dramatically changing gears in Dawn King's lumbering dystopian parable about, well, more or less whatever you want it to be about. 

There's more than a hint of Brexit and the American law enforcement agency ICE in King's encoded tale of a farming couple beset by a mysterious visitor amidst dwindling food supplies and paranoiac talk of contamination and collaboration. The hunt is on for foxes that may or may not actually be there, not that Rheon's suited and single-minded William Bloor (the foxfinder of the title) cares much about such niceties as facts. Instead, he arrives unbidden at the home of the grief-stricken Covey family and installs himself as the guest who won't leave. At least not before expressing robotically-spoken concerns about "complete annihilation" even as he invites the biblical-sounding Samuel (Paul Nicholls) and Judith (Heida Reed) to call him by his first name: gosh, how kind (Nicholls and Reed pictured below right).

Gary McCann's set for 'Foxfinder'With its trees angling up to the sky, Gary McCann's fluid design– shimmeringly lit by Paul Anderson as it shifts between indoors and outdoors at will   suggests a rural Chekhovian backwater, and King pays direct homage to the Russian master in a first-act speech from Judith whose stoicism finds any number of dramatic forebears. The abiding self-seriousness, meanwhile, puts one in mind of Ibsen, whose characters often speak in similarly clenched tones about the insupportable events that have marked our their lives. So heavy-going is the terrain this time out that a belated demand just prior to the interval for one character to make another a sandwich all but brought down the house – a bit of levity at last. Prior to that, I clocked the odd snicker when the 33-year-old Rheon reported that William is 19: a fix someone could surely have tended to in rehearsals?

But for an allegory to take root, one needs more of a genuine theatrical anchor, not to mention an energy, than one finds here, in an uncharacteristically slack production from Rachel O'Riordan that botches its climactic act of violence and invites further laughter at moments that require a deepening intensity. (Fondly remembered for bravura new work at the Royal Court and the National, O'Riordan is the newly appointed artistic director of west London's Lyric Hammersmith.) 

The cast includes Bryony Hannah as a thin-voiced onlooker to William's "filthy propaganda" and she, like her colleagues, comes at the material with a po-faced rigour that can't be easy to sustain. Rheon gets not one but two moments of shirtless self-flagellation that look too stagey to convince (Judge Turpin in Sweeney Todd he is not), and only Reed feels naturally at ease with the gathering suffocation of a dramatic conceit that wears its noble intentions like a badge of honour. I don't doubt in the 50-seat Finborough, and with a different creative team, that material this loaded may have had a raw power. But context in the theatre counts for a lot, and whatever once gripped about Foxfinder has been lost or misplaced along the way. 

For an allegory to take root, one needs more of a genuine theatrical anchor, not to mention an energy, than one finds here


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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