18. October 2011 in The English Theatre of Hamburg: The English Theatre started this season on September 8 with “The Fox” by Allan Miller (adapted from the novella by D. H. Lawrence), a play which can hardly be beaten when it comes to tension between the characters and increasing imminence.
Even in its 35th season The English Theatre hits the mark with “The Fox”. This play, based on D.H. Lawrence’s well known novella and brilliantly adapted for the stage by Allan Miller, drags the audience into the plot straightaway. Two young women moved to an isolated farm in the English countryside in order to escape from a world dominated by men, they try hard to shut this world out of their lives. Will this work out in the long run or will the inequality of sexes, which they try to hide from, find them by and by?
One winter evening the young soldier Henry knocks on their front door and claims to be the late landlords’s grandson. For he seems to be nice and willing to hunt for food and kill the bothersome fox, which eats their hens and even haunts Nellie’s dreams, Jill invites Henry to stay for a week even though Nellie seems very much displeased with this decision. Henry keeps his promises but takes more and more possession of the farm and even of the two women. He comes and goes as he pleases and behaves as if the farm was still his home.
Therefore Jill’s initial enthusiasm abates even faster than Nellie’s reservation and hostility towards Henry. The threatening but fascinating effect of this men-shaped sly fox did not fail as Henry knew right from the start that not the fragile, sickly Jill is the weak one but rather the hard working, boyish Nellie. Jill tries to warn Nellie repeatedly about Henry’s manipulative dominance which will have a command of them (“Like a hawk on the wing!”) if Nellie would not send him away. Unfortunately Nellie has already fallen for Henry’s dangerous charm. She cannot resist his power and he finally presses her to marry him. When Jill tries to ward Nellie from this decision all the unleashed emotions lead to a tragic ending.
The audience understands the symbol of the fox right away and therefore even while still being absent the fox gains a powerful presence which everyone can feel. The play is mainly supported by the brilliant performance of these very different women. The transformation of Jill (Kate Middleton) from a perfect hostess to a desperate fighter for Nellie and enemy of Henry is equally believable as the transformation of Nellie (Suzy Bastone) from a brusque and hostile lone fighter to a woman lost to her passion and fear. The two actresses are bound to their roles with lots of energy and emotions and manage to make the audience feel their dreams and fears.
Also Adam Reeves as Henry shows his impressive talent for I could feel this danger in each moment. By means of numerous adequate gestures he gradually reveals how dominant and possessive Henry is and when he beats on a chair and yells “Nellie!” one wants to jump up and scream: “No! Don’t you go to him! You’re not a dog!” Nellie’s sudden compliance almost produces physical pain within the audience and with each minute passing, it becomes more evident: If we fear something or someone we allow it or him/her to dominate us. And once this has happened, it will be almost impossible to undo it.
Only with her last plea Jill finds the right words to reach Nellie. She convinces her that Henry wants their farm and along with that Jill for his kitchen and Nellie for his bed (“He is bossy and greedy and as soon as you are married he will order us about like a pair of labours!”). So Nellie rears up one last time and tries to escape the claws of the fox. A very impressive performance of these young but never the less experienced actors who bring Allan Miller’s play back to life.
Also the intelligent set design should not be unmentioned for its charm lies in its authenticity and simplicity. Each time the front door opened into the winter night, the coldness was almost noticeable even though there were no outer walls in order to allow the audience the view into the farm yard. I hardly remember a stronger effect on stage.
Conclusion: A very intense stage experience which dismisses the audience with a deep impression in a reflective strain.
Laila Mahfouz, 19. Oktober 2011
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