Any journey of self-discovery will always be rife with obstacles and Dexter Flanders’ debut play FOXES is no stranger to this fact. Set in the cold streets of north London and one Black British family who inhabit it, James Hillier directs this tale of turmoil, taboo, and truth.
We begin meeting Daniel (Michael Fatogun) and Meera (July Namir), a young couple whose lives are turned upside down when an accidental pregnancy coupled with Daniel’s unexpected romantic spark with best friend Leon (Anyebe Godwin) forces them to adapt to a new and difficult reality.
I applaud Dexter Flanders for telling such a poignant narrative, and for being brave enough not to coddle us with a happy ending.
Our foundations are built around Daniel’s home life with younger sister Deena (Tosin Alabi) and mum Patricia (Doreene Blackstock). The understated décor and gospel music made me feel like I was home, somewhere familiar yet nostalgic. You can see how the set and lighting influenced each other as they played in a beautiful tandem; projections against the static set indicated changes in weather, the point of view of our characters as the audience become their television screen, and to serve as a milestone for each of the three acts. The transitions were smooth and purposeful, the cast adding a beautiful depth swiftly building up each scenes’ settings in the dim light.
Daniel juggles his old life with the stark new, pressure mounting as he attempts to keep the peace with his mum and girlfriend whilst his friendship with Leon reaches new levels. Stagnancy turns to confusion, to loving passion, to anger and back again, showing us an important and saddening reality; how isolation and fear become an unavoidable part of what it is to be a gay Black man when your family is rooted in religious expectation and cultural status quo.
Like a love letter to Black London, FOXES epitomised Black British-ness in speech and style. The words, cadence and patter all flowed like poetry on stage; mixed with quips of Jamaican patois it all felt gloriously authentic, the cast seeming truly connected to the backgrounds of the characters and not just the words they spoke.
Like a love letter to Black London, FOXES epitomised Black British-ness in speech and style.
Fatogun and Godwin’s performances were particularly memorable; I sensed a real brotherhood between Daniel and Leon, a bond that warmed and confused them both as their relationship deepens. July Namir deserves praise for her performance as Meera, delivering her tearful monologues with a passion that was difficult not to be swept away by.
Whilst it did well to be bold with emotional beats, I felt that some scenes may have been too keen to switch to comedic timing. An exchange between Meera and Leon felt laden unnecessarily with quick laughs, and whilst lightness is needed in part, it felt slightly cartoonish considering the gravity of the situation they found themselves in. I feel the cast could have taken a step back from trying to achieve emotional naturalism through their actions and instead let the words as well as some of the silence speak for itself.
FOXES did well to journey us through three acts of establishing relationships, watching them crumble amongst challenge, to then come to a heart wrenching ending. The cliff-hanger resonated deeply; we are left not knowing what the future holds for this family who are pained by what they’ve been through, yet still choosing fear and secrets over unapologetic authenticity in the name of saving face. As Leon puts it, him and Daniel find themselves “hiding in the shadows, operating in the night like foxes.”; a line that hits home so much more as we fade to black.
FOXES is not a love story. Nor is it one of acceptance or overcoming. It’s the truth, and a small part of a larger question of who we are when no one is looking. The art is always influenced by the medium, and the stylistic choices made in this production left me feeling intrigued to see it envisioned as a television series, something that could aid it in travelling leaps and bounds ahead of itself.
I applaud Dexter Flanders for telling such a poignant narrative, and for being brave enough not to coddle us with a happy ending. We are left with the question, who benefits from the face we show the world at the expense of our truth? And a wondering of who and what gets left behind, as Flanders quotes Martin Luther King Jr in his dedications; “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”