Writer: Dexter Flanders
Director: James Hillier
National Coming Out Day has been celebrated for over thirty years, but Dexter Flander’s mesmerising debut play, Foxes, reveals that in many communities to be gay remains anathema. Loving widow Patricia (Doreene Blackstock) welcomes into the household Meera (July Namir), pregnant Muslim girlfriend of her son Daniel (Michael Fatogun). But when, half way through the play, Daniel stammers out the truth of his sexuality, Patricia is adamant: “I never raised my son to be that way, to lay down with no man and do all kinda nastiness.” She cites Leviticus: “if a man lies wid a male as he lies wid a woman, both of dem have committed an abomination”.
Before this can happen, Daniel has to awaken to the truth about himself. He calms his anxieties about impending responsibilites by bringing home tiny baby booties. His best friend Leon (Anyebe Godwin) offers kindly secondhand wisdom: fatherhood will bring focus. They may be mid-20s, but Daniel and Leon are barely out of adolescence, happily playing Street Fighter, singing along to Drake feat Giggs, talking in effortlessly overlapping rhythms. Daniel is not conscious of being gay. Only in dreams does he sense being entrapped in his current identity, feeling the stirring of troubling attraction.
Leon knows he is gay, but is horrified at the idea of being out. He’s been to gay bars in London, but there “ain’t no black people there to connect wid”. He sees “white men holding hands,” while black gay men all seem to act camp. People like him, he reckons, are like foxes “hiding in the shadows, operating in the night”. James Hillier’s taut direction maintains the tense pattern of their relationship as Daniel tentatively moves towards and repeatedly withdraws from Leon. Their first moments of true encounter are spell-binding: the silence and stillness eloquent.
Flander’s writing is spare and pin-sharp, wittily rendering the ever-shifting registers in which the characters speak. Patricia speaks classical British Jamaican. Daniel’s sister Deena (Tosin Alabi), aspiring to a job at JP Morgan, can modulate between standard English and more comfortable slang. Daniel is all too ready “with some dead story” about why he can’t go to church’ ,but he’s “quick to go to football or Nando’s though, innit”. Most vivid are the rapid exchanges between Daniel and Leon. How can Stormzy call his album Gang Signs and Prayers, Daniel asks, “like are you a road man or a chuch yout”. “Both, innit,” Leon insists. He may not be at uni like Daniel, but he can sense something more profound about being drawn in two apparently separate directions. “So allow man with the GCSE lecture,” he concludes.
Excellent lighting converts the small stage from the family home to the sports store where Leon sells trainers, while brilliant video design races exhilaratingly through urban exteriors. Meanwhile ordinary life goes on. The birth of Daniel and Meera’s baby draws nearer. How will it all pan out? There is a sign in Patricia’s vengeful peeling of sweet potatoes.
Runs until 23 October 2021