by Spencer Scholz
“We’re never quite sure if this is a realist parable or a sci-fi nightmare, but the present-day parallels are many.” – Liza Dezfouli, Australian Stage Online
Foxfinder, is our first play for season 2 of 2013 here at Red Stitch.
The show is an absolute cracker, the cast and crew putting in stellar performances, the production eliciting both laughs and gasps and delivering a hefty dose of food-for-thought before sending you on your merry way to digest what you have just seen. Reviewer and patrons alike have agreed wholeheartedly with this notion and we have all been humbled by the response, with people intrigued by the story presented in this alternate European future and drawing many parallels with their own lives and current events. So, being the curious person that I am, this begs one simple question: ‘why…?
So let’s pull apart this great example and see what we can find, shall we?
As far as the writing goes, the evidence suggests that Dawn King’s 2011 play can do no wrong, with its debut in London scoring numerous critics choice awards, shortlisted for Time Out’s Best New Play of the year, the Independent’s top 5 plays of the year, unanimous reviews, and also won Dawn the Award for Most Promising New Playwright at the Off West End Theatre Awards last year. But if there has been any qualm with Foxfinderas a piece of writing, the chink in the armour is that it is aimless in its accusal, pointing the finger at nothing- a rebel without a cause. The notion is that valid work should be based on real events- or at least have specific opinions on them- but in the wake of this plays response, it should be asked, ‘does it need to?’
The reason that this play has created such heated debate amongst audiences is its ability to transcend popular culture and events, boiling it all down to one simple truth, an achievement helped along by the popular writing technique of creating an alternate world in order to say something about our own without fear of reprisal. Literature has often created alternate realities, futures or pasts in order to say something about the world we live in, with authors such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, P. D. James and Kazuo Ishiguro all utilizing this method of storytelling to pen classic titles such as1984, Brave New World, Children of Men and Never Let Me Go (as well as all being English novelists- coincidence?). The ability to make the authors themes resonate to the reader so powerfully is due to this technique, a ploy now becoming common with Hollywood blockbusters in an attempt to give their films an extra level of depth.
The writing on the page is of course only one side of the rubrics cube- the rest are made up of the creatives which bring these words alive before our eyes, whether it be the performers, the technicians or the designers, and according to our Resident Set Designer, Peter Mumford, the words on the page are integral to inspiring the final product you witness as an audience member.
“I have always avoided the temptation to promote my personal aesthetic or to develop a ‘house’ style”says Peter. “Instead I have taken the position that the work or script is everything and is always the starting point. Our company is unique in that as theatre makers we select our own work, which means we have to own it and develop it in a way that serves the writer’s intent. With thisapproach every play is treated in it’s own terms.”
This notions has served Peter well in his 10 years as the company’s designer, his integrity contributing heavily to the Red Stitch’s success by mirroringthe company’s aim to bring new works to an Australian stage by creating sets which are vibrant, unique and alive. ‘Foxfinder’ is the perfect example of this approach, its rich nature and detail bringing King’s world to life in the eyes of the audience, so much so that Peter’s set has even be called‘the star of the show’ by Stage whispers.com. “Foxfinder is possibly the most atmospheric set I have created at Red Stitch” he continues. “I wanted the design to be elemental- dank cold air, the smell of wet earth and the sound of falling water.”
All these things helped to frame the ideas explored in the play, striving to let the world settle be accepted in the minds of its audience so that the themes addressed in the play can be followed as easily as possible. Peter was fully aware of the transcending ideas the play maintains and was keen to embody them within the design, particularly in giving a knowing wink to those classic writers which preceded King.
“King’s nod to George Orwell resonated very strongly with me. I read ‘Road to Wigan Pier’ when I was still in high school and ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm ‘quickly followed. Like that other great social realist writer Upton Sinclair, who wrote ‘The Jungle’, Orwell speaks to those who are the salt of the earth.”
The trend of English novelists exploring alternate worlds to highlight their own and in particular Dawn King’s world was also not lost on Peter, wanting to add his own personal touch to this particular design by drawing on his own experiences growing up in southern England.
“I needed to do little research for Foxfinder- I understood the Covey’s world because largely it was my own. We lived in caravans for the first six years of my life and the last caravan was located in the corner of a friendly farmers muddy field. The noise of incessant rain on the caravan roof drove my poor mother to the point of a nervous breakdown, so I understand the English preoccupation with the weather and the effect rain has on the national psyche.”
Peter has openly and selflessly given his own experiences to create the world of this play and can speak a great deal to the sets authenticity and the plays potency as a piece of writing. ‘Foxfinder’ presents belief to us in visceral and clear detail, how it can be warped by outside forces and confronts us with how fragile we really are. This universal human trait is taken and scrutinized before our eyes, and the plays broader moral of the importance of questioning and thinking for oneself simply could not come alive in such vivid and engrossing a fashion by drawing simply from a single news headline or current event. The theatre is a spawning ground for ideas and by pigeonholing a single event or notion seems- to me anyway- to not take full advantage of what the theatre has the power and capacity to do.The best theatre is theatre that challenges ways of thinking, not theatre that puts true events on a pedestal in order for you to simply say “oh look at how bad that is- somebody should do something about it…” It is a platform for debate, and the fact that theatre can divide and elicit heated and wordy discussion is perhaps its greatest achievement.
This is certainly something that ‘Foxfinder’ has so far managed to do, and Peter is humble in his contribution to the production and presses the collaborative nature of bringing theatre to life, crediting Red stitch’s ensemble-based process for the standard the company has been able to achieve.
“ The shows success is not due to me alone. Kat Henry the director has used the set brilliantly. Amelia Lever-Davidson has lit it in so many wonderful ways and David Maloy’s sound has kicked atmosphere up to another level. There has been a mutual excitement among the creatives on this show and when combined with a great cast the result is a long way beyond the sum of it’s parts.”
So why is ‘Foxfinder’ a great show? Because it has such a passionate group of people to bring it to life.
There- that wasn’t so hard was it?
‘FOXFINDER’ RUNS UNTIL SATURDAY AUGUST 17TH. SEE YOU THERE!!!