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Foxfinder

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The fox is an animal onto which human culture has projected certain qualities, such as cunning, trickery and feminine coquettishness. In Dawn King’s quietly disarming parable Foxfinder, directed by Kat Henry for its Australian premiere at Red Stitch, the fox is also a scapegoat for a civilisation on the brink of crisis.

In King’s bleak, dystopian vision of pastoral England, farming is humankind’s last resort and is subject to rigorous government inspection. A foxfinder is an official trained to root out the cause of lagging production, and whose visit is dreaded by the Coveys—farmer Samuel (outgoing Red Stitch Artistic Director David Whiteley) and his wife Judith (Joanne Trentini). When their designated foxfinder William Bloor (Matthew Whitty) arrives, the Coveys’ crops are failing and their marriage is strained by the recent loss of their only son.

Bloor is a fundamentalist, raised from childhood to believe that the fox is not only a pest but a predator wilfully terrorising humans. His fervour seems both ideological and religious: he searches for signs among the random patterns of nature, persecutes “doubters,” and is simultaneously attracted and repelled by the fox’s power.

The animal is clearly a symbol, but its meaning shifts in King’s complex tale, part-allegory and part-thriller. The tension builds through the characters’ competing explanations for the dismal crops and their belief or not in the elusive fox.

Henry grounds the strange and unnerving symbolism with a domestic realism that has characters talking while hanging out the laundry or fretting about harvesting leeks. The set design by Peter Mumford also achieves this balance between realism and Gothic excess, giving us drizzling English rain on stage, muddy boots, and strung-up rabbit skins.

There are echoes of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and the dystopian fictions of George Orwell and Kazuo Ishiguro, but it is this naturalism that proves the most unnerving quality of Foxfinder, bringing close to home its meditations on fear, blame, and denial.

Foxfinder is playing at Red Stitch Actors Theatre, St Kilda, until 17 August.
For more information and tickets visit redstitch.net.


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