THE FOX AND THE CHILD at the Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol

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Sharp Teeth Theatre has chosen this simple yet slightly sinister tale to make its debut production. Their previous association with this venue has been the curating and presenting multi-genre work and the company’s familiarity with the performance space helps present this short piece in a confident and well balanced way.

Writer and solo performer Stephanie Kempson uses a lyrical prose style to reflect influences of magical realism and she combines this with a more contemporary storytelling twist to suggest a grittier reality, reminiscent in Kate Tempest’s spoken word poetry.

Director Maisie Newman mixes the narrative with evocative projection by James D Kent to illustrate the story of a young woman, Lizzie, who meets an older man and falls in love.  The story also involves Claire, the man’s wife who dreams of becoming an urban fox.  The fox goes on to hunt a child.

At its heart the story is about love, loss and revenge.  There are also hints of jealousy, guilt and mental illness. This should be a visceral mix in a modern gothic fairy-tale world. The audience expect teeth to be bared.

The back stories are told with a great deal of detail and the images which seamlessly flash upon the screen help to conjure up the memories flowing through the main protagonists’ thoughts and fears.  We are taken into the minds of the two women, Lizzie and Claire, and feel drawn into their lives and everyday concerns.  Through minimal stage direction on an earthy brown floor we can see the women move and can also hear their inner voices quite clearly, but the man is more distant. He has silver hair and an obvious charm, but we don’t learn much more about him.

The tempo is too one paced and the story becomes alive when the rigid prose poetry is broken by more animated day to day conversation and the occasional joke. There were some slips in the dialogue on the first night which interrupted the narrative slightly, which was a shame as the lyrical poetry was good to hear and gave life to the story more powerfully than did the minutiae of remembered memories.

The fox is introduced early and she is a very real animal familiar to all of us who live in cities.  We see her clearly prowling and deploying cunning to live in a human world.  She is something mysterious and mystery often breeds fear.

The story promises a lot of bite, and could have benefitted from flowing more in this direction.  I would have liked to have heard a more dramatic narrative thrust, and although the conclusion is shocking, the audience is left feeling that it could have been pushed a lot further without losing credibility.

The Fox and the Child has been in gestation for a couple of years and another period of nurturing might be needed to fully realise the story inside to deliver a truly tasty bite.    ★★★☆☆    Bryan Mason     19th October 2016