Foxes are hugely problematic in certain pockets of London, not only for the mess they make but because of the noises they generate when locked together as part of the mating process. These sounds, ‘like a crying child’, are enough to drive anybody potty in the wee hours of the morning, rendering sleep deprivation a common theme amongst neighbours at certain times of the year. Rachel and Stefan, in their new relationship, know this more than most. As fox cries continually penetrate their dreams, it feels as though as the play unfolds the real nightmare lies next to them in the bed. For this relationship is like no other. It almost feels doomed from the start, with themes of alcoholism, control, and inexperience rearing their ugly heads pervading throughout.
Stefan (played with lovely comic timing by Rhys Whomsley) is very green, fresh from the valleys of Wales, following his brother Simon to London because of course, blood is thicker than water. At Simon’s wedding, he meets Rachel (a fiery Amanda Vilanova), although her connection to the bride or groom is unclear.
They hit it off – or rather, she bowls him over – and pretty soon they’re living together. So far, so good. Stefan continually asserts that he can’t believe his luck, to have met his ‘angel’, whilst Rachel basks in this praise and has fun pushing Stefan’s buttons, just because.
It really is one of those unlikely relationships – and although unfortunately, it’s hard to buy into it, and therefore root for the couple – there are some lovely moments of sweetness between the two, in amongst the fighting. The themes of sleeplessness and midnight musing, of living fast-and- free in London town, and of continually fighting against emotional barriers, are all too prevalent, sometimes to great effect. Rachel’s conversations with her therapist, for instance, indicate a childhood trauma, and as her life becomes increasingly chaotic, she begins to question what is real or not. Perhaps this confusion is intended – yet in some ways, it can make the story difficult to follow for an audience, as we also repeatedly question what is real, and where we are in the timeline of their lives, with answers not always forthcoming.
That said, this play is dense and always moving, utilising different ways to present information to the audience. There is an onstage microphone, and various voiceovers, for example, and the characters have been directed (by
Rupert Hands) to continually watch each other from the side of the stage, sometimes penetrating their dreams by calling out. The writing is by turns haunting (there is some lovely poetry) and funny, and yet it can occasionally feel clunky, with multiple outbursts and lots of cussing. In some ways, the writing itself is messy, which perfectly reflects the chaos on stage, captured beautifully in Lizzy Leech’s design. Rachel and Stefan’s relationship is a bit of a mess; the question of whether it is recoverable or not, however, seems to be a foregone conclusion. And with that being pretty clear from the off, the central premise of Fox should perhaps shift away from what can be done to save this relationship, and move more towards a discussion on how to minimise the damage incurred along the way.
Review by Amy Stow
Fox, the debut play by writer Harrison Rose, is a darkly comic and brutally honest examination of the price of passion and relationships in the modern generation. Directed by Rupert Hands (Blackbird, The Secret Garden), and starring Amanda Vilanova (Cymbeline, Stay Awake Theatre Company New York City) and Rhys Whomsley (Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama graduate), this new play will have its World Premiere at The Old Red Lion Theatre this Autumn.
Fox charts the relationship of Rachel and Stefan from conception to end, covering the highs, the lows, and asking us to consider what we can ever really know about the people we love.
Writer: Harrison Rose
Director: Rupert Hands
Designer: Lizzy Leech
Lighting Designer: Peter Small
Producer: Hannah Tookey
Stage Manager: Rachel Pryce
Stefan: Rhys Whomsley
Rachel: Amanda Vilanova
Tuesday 26th September – Saturday 14th October
Running time: 75 minutes
Location: The Old Red Lion Theatre, 418 St John Street, London, EC1V 4NJ