It doesn’t take long to appreciate why Foxes, at Theatre 503, was shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award. This debut play by Dexter Flanders boldly goes where very few have dared to go before and it does so consummately.

A groundbreaking theatrical triumph

On the most basic level it’s a coming-out drama, yet until the identity of who is coming out to whom is revealed it has all the suspense of a who-dunnit. There are only two male characters. Will it be him, or will it be him, or will it be both of them? The tension is heightened because the setting is London’s Caribbean Community. The two street-wise lads live in a world dominated by traditional ideas of masculinity where the stakes are about as high as they get in an otherwise liberal, gay-friendly city. Once the mystery is revealed the implications and consequences of coming out are explored with great economy of language in plot development that just goes straight to the heart of the issues.

The acts, the locations and the time frame of the play are displayed in a bold lighting and projection design by Will Monks, complete with video footage that fills the stage. Throughout, there is also the carefully crafted sound design by Josh Anio Grigg that ranges from some well-chosen songs and raps to the tremulous effects that heighten the most tense moments. Theatre 503 is hardly spacious and co-designers Erin Guan and Rita Adeyosoye have gone for stark simplicity in creating the family home in a way that cannot detract from the centrality of text. Such is the attention to detail and desire to have things done properly that director James Hillier and associate director Malakaï Sargeant have taken on the services of both a movement director, Gerrard Martin, and an intimacy director, Robbie Taylor Hunt, leaving nothing to chance. All these combine to support those on stage who work so well together thanks to the judicious judgement of casting director Annie Rowe.

Daniel (Michael Fatogun) is in a difficult situation from the outset as he and his girlfriend Meera (July Namir) reveal that she is pregnant. Disowned and kicked out the house for having brought disgrace on her conservative Muslim family, she is welcomed into the evangelical Christian house headed by Daniel’s mother, the formidable Patricia (Doreene Blackstock). There she meets Daniel’s younger sister, Deena (Tosin Alabi), a dutiful daughter, but one who knows her own mind and is clearly set to get on in the world as she awaits the result of her interview with one of the biggest names in the city. Which leaves Foot Locker employee Leon (Anyebe Godwin), who spends so much time in his friend’s house he is almost part of the furniture.

As the gay apocalypse opens up there are heated debates and bitter confrontations. The Bible-studying Patricia is not without chapter and verse to quote as she invokes the memory of her late husband and the judgment of God in addressing the ‘abomination’. Blackstock here is at her most vehement, having already confirmed Patricia’s no-nonsense matriarchal status that masks a kind and generous spirit that is nevertheless unable to extend to homosexuals. It’s her increasingly confident daughter who summons up the nerve to challenge her with talk of the Jesus who mixed with tax-gatherers and prostitutes and welcomed sinners. Alabi certainly knows how to ring the changes in a character who rises to the demands of every situation and is something of a detective on the side. Meanwhile, Namir displays all the concerns of a girl abandoned by her family, demonstrating gratitude for having been taken in and confronting the prospect of being a mother, less than confident about the role Daniel might ultimately play in their relationship. As for the two young men, Fatogun and Godwin perform an emotional rollercoaster packed with ups and downs and twists and turns all delivered with style, passion and integrity.

The suspense is often palpable in this production, with some audible gasps from around the house coming out at times. Everything works together in this stunning production to create a groundbreaking theatrical triumph.

Reviews by Richard Beck

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The Blurb

Daniel is a young black man trying to keep up with his life, which is moving fast. When his relationship with best friend Leon explodes everything is knocked off its axis, introducing a taboo into his family home that has the power to tear the closest and most loving relationships apart.

Shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award, Dexter Flander’s fierce debut play explores masculinity and homosexuality within London’s Caribbean Community and black street culture.

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