What was described as "most compelling new work I have seen this year"1 by Michael Billington in its original run, at Finborough theatre in 2011, has sadly not translated well to the West End for a number of reasons. Despite its plentiful flaws, which I will discuss in a moment, the script is spectacular - Dawn King's writing is impeccable in an otherwise dreary production.
The story is set in a not so distant future, where a barren England lives in fear of foxes, which have been labelled by government as the root of all evil in society. In a remote farmhouse, a farmer and his wife are sent a 'Foxfinder' from the government - stationed to discover why their crop has been declining. King's script is clever, and creates the perfect parable for our ailing society, where the government seeks to scapegoat its most vulnerable inhabitants to cover for its failings.
Beyond the script however, and it starts to fall apart. The key issue is the acting - Iwan Rheon is a fairly compelling lead as the foxfinder, unfortunately, the rest of the lead cast let him down. Heida Reed and Paul Nicholls, whom play a couple grieving for their infant son, have no discernible chemistry. Despite their starry billing, their actions feel very surface-level and over directed - you see their eyes marking out their actions before they take them, and their silences, which are clearly meant to be as a couple who cannot find the words to communicate, rather feel as though they are waiting for their next cue. As a result, the audience are not quite sure how to take them both. There is clear evidence of misfire, for as the drama reaches its conclusion, rather than gasps of horror you hear chuckles of laughter from the audience at the Farmer's crazed actions.
The set also does not help. Although Gary McCann's design beautifully captures the dirt of the outside world creeping into personal lives, with looming trees representing the power of the government and the unknown powers of nature infiltrating their sparse home, it takes away the intimacy and claustrophobia from many of the scenes. You never get the stifling feeling of a strangers presence inside their home, or the awkwardness of their relationship, as it feels so lost in the vast expanse of space. The only part where I felt the fear and paranoia that the script so desperately craves were during the scenes with the wonderful Bryony Hannah, playing the farmer's wife neighbour and closest friend . She is excellent in her role, with both her fierce resilience and quiet fear instilled deeply.
It is during these moments you can see the true essence of what the production could have been, and it seems a shame for such a wonderful script to be encased in such a tepid production.