It’s been a while since my last visit to Theatre 503, so found myself looking forward to being back at this fantastic theatre, famed for nurturing new playwrights. Foxes is Dexter Flanders’ debut play, and if this is how he starts, the world of theatre is in for a treat.
Foxes centres around a Black British family living in North London. It’s a startingly powerful play, filled with impeccable performances. It begins when son Daniel (Michael Fatogun) discovers that his girlfriend Meera (July Namir) is pregnant. When her Muslim family throw her out, it is Daniel’s mother Patricia (Doreene Blackstock) who takes her in.
Early on, Daniel’s sister (Tosin Alabi) stumbles upon an upset Meera, and this is just the start of many intense and moving moments. Namir’s performance is incredible, as she finds herself tearfully questioning both her faith and the community that brought her up. It is the faith of the two families that gives a thought-provoking backdrop to the drama that unfolds.
The sensational performances continue; the finale of Act One leaves me on the edge of my seat. Daniel is hanging out with his mate Leon (Anyebe Godwin) when a harmless conversation escalates into a physical fight. It’s intense to watch, and from the front row I want to leap up and shout at them to stop. It’s a fight that ends in a kiss. Without giving too many spoilers, the two friends struggle as they explore their feelings for one another. What’s particularly interesting is the conversation around being black and gay. Leon confessing that to conceal his sexuality he visits gay clubs outside of London, clubs which are full mostly of white men. He questions how many other black men in their community are hiding in the shadows. He also admits that there was never any doubt in his mind that he consistently likes men. But their friendship is put under strain as Daniel struggles with his own sexuality.
One of the most upsetting moments is watching Daniel come out to his Mum. It’s hard to sympathise with or understand Patricia’s perspective, as she categorically refuses to accept that her son is gay, quoting passages from her Bible that seem to condemn homosexuality, before throwing him out. It makes for very uncomfortable viewing, especially considering how earlier we’d seen Patricia welcome Meera into her home because her life didn’t align with her own family’s religious beliefs.
The set, whilst simple, is used with ingenuity, particularly the use of lighting and projections on the back wall. These set the scene throughout, taking us from a dark London street to the middle of a video game. Sudden black outs that reveal Daniel moving in the half light, whilst people from his life look straight past him, also provide powerful markers in the plot. His silent screams at the people in his life are harrowing to watch.
Foxes doesn’t really offer answers, in fact the ending delivers the most gut-wrenching scene of the whole play. I’m totally engrossed throughout, and my bus journey home is one full of thoughts and questions circling around in my head. Exactly what great theatre should do.
Written by: Dexter Flanders
Directed and produced by: James Hillier
Foxes was due to play until 23 October, but following a positive covid test with one of the cast, the live dates have been cancelled. There is a livestream version being broadcast on 26 October, more information via the below link.