Theatre re­view Starry cast fail to find play’s dark vi­sion

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Miriam Gillinson

Foxfinder starts in si­lence. A cou­ple sit at a ta­ble, stiff limbed and eyes trained ahead. Their farm is on the brink and the much-feared foxfinder is com­ing to check for an in­fes­ta­tion. If foxes are dis­cov­ered, the farm will be shut down. The si­lence stretches on and the at­mos­phere dark­ens.

Rachel O’Rior­dan’s West End trans­fer seeks the ten­sion of Dawn King’s dystopia but fails to sum­mon it. The play has the po­ten­tial to haunt and frighten, and O’Rior­dan has worked di­rec­to­rial won­ders in the past, but Foxfinder’s vi­sion eludes her this time around.

The play’s de­but in 2011 launched King’s ca­reer and con­firmed Blanche McIn­tyre as a di­rec­tor of ex­cep­tional dra­matic in­stinct. This pro­duc­tion, how­ever, feels lost in its ex­pan­sive new home. But al­though the stag­ing is a tad clunky, it is the head­line­grab­bing cast­ing that has most neu­tralised the play. Iwan Rheon plays the tit­u­lar foxfinder: he is the mas­ter of glit­ter­ing mal­ice – a look per­fected in Game of Thrones – but there’s a lot more to this role than menace. In a jar­ring mis­match, the foxfinder is meant to be 18 and im­pres­sion­able; Rheon is 33.

Paul Nicholls and Heida Reed (of EastEn­ders and Poldark fame, re­spec­tively) play Sa­muel and Ju­dith Covey, grieving for both their farm and their dead son. Ev­ery­one ex­cept Sa­muel be­gins to doubt the ex­is­tence of the foxes, which start to seem like a handy way for the govern­ment to con­trol ci­ti­zens. But Sa­muel, des­per­ate to find some­one to blame, hunts his grief with a gun.

The only ac­tor truly com­fort­able in her role is Bry­ony Han­nah as the neigh­bour, Sarah. Her eyes dart around the stage, alert to the dan­ger not of the fox, but of those who hunt them down. Am­bas­sadors theatre un­til 1 Oc­to­ber

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