Foxes is a simple and poignant story about how twenty-year-old Daniel’s coming-out affects his relationships with his best friend, his girlfriend, and his Caribbean family. With the rhythmic slang and vitalising grime, afrobeats, and dancehall segues, writer Dexter Flanders has captured an authentic slice of Black British life in North London. Director-and-producer James Hillier’s influence is felt in the parts of the production which aren’t to do with language – the scenes and their changes that double as physical theatre routines. These airy scene transitions are incongruous to the raw social realism of the language and acting.
Take for example Scene Two. It is written in the published October 2021 edition as:
Daniel’s dreaming, he’s in a big black cave. Hands and feet chained. He’s stood star-shaped covered in tar, wearing only rags as underwear. Thunder and lightning roar through the sky. In front of him lies a baby wrapped up in a cot crying. The crying gets louder and louder. Daniel is petrified, he attempts to break free from the chains to help but can’t.
This is thematically more conceptual than the scene prior to this where Daniel has been told by his girlfriend, Meera, that she’s pregnant and keeping the baby. This passage is rife with rhetorical devices, such as pathetic fallacy, which can help the reader infer what Daniel’s reaction to the pregnancy may be. For example, the thunder and lightning is symbolic of the wider existential crisis that this pregnancy presents. It seems like the thunder and lightning isn’t actually a danger to the baby – it’s more like the baby is symbiotic with the weather and they’re working together to oppress Daniel.
However, we don’t need such heavy subtext on stage where Michael Fatogun’s acting and reacting to July Namir (Meera) in the first scene relays a lot of this information. On the Theatre Peckham stage, design constraints meant a lot of this second scene couldn’t be staged. Instead, Fatogun stands, dressed in all black, in the middle of the room, jerking and trying to rid himself of imaginary chains. We have moved abruptly from a slice-of-life kitchen-sink drama in the first scene to a staccato symbolic performance which stagnates the piece as a whole. Thankfully, this staging reins in the script’s initial cave concept.
While Hillier is an experienced director and actor, it seems like his BBC soap operatic background is not the experience needed for the staging of lived Black gay experiences. However, Josh Anio Grigg’s brilliantly unnerving music design and the direction of the actors’ movements and body language tempers the potential melodrama of the last scene:
Daniel looks to the door and then puts his head on Leon’s leg […] Daniel and Leon like clockwork both re-adjust and create distance between them. Daniel picks up Nevaeh. The rest enter with the cake, singing happy birthday and they all join in.
The urgency with which Fatogun and Anyebe Godwin (Leon) ‘create distance’ as the family come in, completely oblivious, is heart-breaking and speaks volume, especially set against the non-diegetic music. In creating distance, Fatogun stands completely by himself on the stage, signposting his alienation from his family. We feel the sense of danger of having their sexualities be revealed. They look at each other, sad that they cannot openly be happy together and, unlike in the script, Daniel does not pick up Nevaeh, Getting rid of that moment of intimacy for the character suggests that his clear priority and love in life is Leon who he touches and that Nevaeh is a product of, and burden carried over from, a life Daniel wishes he didn’t have to have.
The acting in this last scene shows the realities of being in the closet in a Caribbean household. The illicitness and clandestineness codes these characters as criminals even though they’re simply in a relationship. This is an uncomfortable reality for many people. If only there were more of those brilliant flashes of direction from Hillier and less of the physical theatre fluff. If anything, you should watch this show for the last scene alone.