Foxes is Dexter Flanders’ first play and is ambitious in its scope…
Exploring queerness, the pressures of religion (Islam and Christianity), young parenthood and toxic masculinity. The intersectionality of these issues then makes it clear where the conflict will arise, but the plot is never once predictable. This is emboldened by the performances of its cast which brings the show’s drama to life.
There is a clear urgency in telling this story which is reflected in the pace of the narrative – scenes are filled with quick one-liners and spats. This pace also reflects the main protagonist Daniel’s inner world, as everything is moving fast for him – his Muslim girlfriend Meera is pregnant and has been kicked out of her family home so has moved in with him and his family; He is finishing his final year of university, and he is grappling with feelings for his best friend, Leon. At times, I did wish that the pace would slow down as it was fatiguing to watch a duel in every scene.
Given the knottiness of their relationships, it would have been interesting to see how the quiet conflict between the characters builds. It is significant then, when we feel that pause, expertly executed when Daniel comes out to his mother Patricia, played by Doreen Blackstock. For the silence to still feel active is a testament to Blackstock’s skill as an actor, she is magnificent as Daniel’s god-fearing mum. When she says that “he is a waste of a man” we get the sense that’s she commenting not just on his lack of manliness but also on the shadow of the man who made him and whose shadow he has had to live in. Indeed, life in the shadows is a thread that runs throughout the play and is mirrored in Erin Guan’s set design which has blind panels on the windows.
Flaunders’ words particularly fly in the mouth of Leon played by Anyebe Godwin who is Daniel’s best friend and lover. Although I did feel that some scenes did not necessarily further the narrative of the story i.e. the Call of Duty scene and the Footlocker scene, they were made enjoyable to watch due to Godwin’s natural sense of comedic timing. The relationship between Godwin and Fatogun’s Daniel felt the most natural and genuine when they leaned into their comradery, performing Giggs and Stormzy numbers, these scenes between them were a joy to watch.
I am interested in the quiet ways people are intimate with each other and given that Daniel and Leon endeavour to keep their relationship a secret, the show could have dealt with more quiet moments – a long look, a lingering hand, a soft smile, allowing the loudness of what is unsaid to ripple between them. Watching the two in intimate scenes, however, I was struck by the fact that you often do not see affection displayed between two Black men, platonic or romantic. Indeed, what is not said in a play is always more interesting than what we get told and the show explores this through the use of dream sequences. This stylistic choice created more surrealist moments, but as Daniel’s waking life is more threatening than his dream world, seeing him wrestle with these challenges in his real life would have been more compelling.
We are so absorbed by Daniel’s world that the inner lives of the women closest to him, his girlfriend Meera and sister Deena, get eclipsed in the process but perhaps that is the point? Tosin Alabi who shone in Soho Theatre’s Queens of Sheba plays Daniel’s sister Deena, who is clearly going places and it is a shame that we don’t get to fully see her dreams and ambitions. When Meera, delicately played by Nemide May comes back on at the end of the play, we have been separated from her for too long that we have almost forgotten about her and the incredibly difficult position she’s in. I do wish that these actors were given an opportunity to further show their talents, but I do look forward to seeing them in other productions.
Given its championing of a Black queer story, I was hoping to see this championing reflected not just in the narrative but also in the creative team. I have to admit that it was quite disappointing to see this imbalance. I am glad that we are getting to the point where the complexities of our stories are being told but it is not just enough that Black and queer stories are being told, but that we are also in a position where we can tell those stories for ourselves. This spotlighting and championing of these issues, however, can be seen in the show’s Associate Programme which features workshops and events led by and for Black queer men, such as Tristan Fynn-Aiduenu’s, Black Queer Men’s Playground and Mista Strange and Strangers Party.
Although I left the theatre a bit muddled about Foxes’ overall intention – was it for Black queer people to feel seen or for Black non-queer people to understand the queer perspective, it did illuminate and remind me that queer people and in this case, in particular, Black gay men, can look and be whoever they want to be which is a powerful message to leave all audiences with.
Foxes runs until 11th June @ Seven Dials Playhouse