For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream is a cruel, unusual, and blistering piece of new writing that will leave you literally winded.
In For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream, A is ill and locked in a bubble. Leaving the bubble will kill her. Between being cleaned and treated by people in sterile suits, her girlfriend B comes to visit her. They listen to audio books and play games. But can these distract from the cracks that form in their relationship from this extraordinary situation?
Labels are difficult and annoying, yet they’re everywhere. Unfortunately, their use is intrinsic for being a critic: I define something by a parameter and then proceed to evaluate it against this. Indeed, some of the labels I’ll be end up attaching to For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream included “LGBT” and “mental health” in particular. However, Charlotte Hamblin’s new piece of writing prove one or both of two things: that you don’t have to write about things within a definition of certain labels to produce a stonking play, and/or that labels can be completely unimportant.
A has what can only be assumed as a auto-immune disease, and also suffers from some form of mental health issue. Although in a lesbian relationship, it’s also strongly suggested that B is actually bisexual, and furthermore, we also never quite find out just what abuse A had suffered in her previous relationship. Hamblin in For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream never fully discloses any of these: they’re all left as ambiguous assumptions we make from what happens in the text as they’re discussed and often skirted around. But the fact of the matter is, that these do not matter at all, and are only relevant to the point they fuel a particular exploration of the human condition when these happen and for only as long as they last. What actually matters in For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream is the dynamic of the relationship and the issues that creep up from this truly extraordinary scenario.
The core of Hamblin’s writing are the beautiful observations of the strange dynamics that couples have when they’re alone. It’s often irreverent and silly with in-jokes left, right, and centre. But it’s something that people don’t rarely see because it’s a private interaction, let alone something that’s written about in a play in the way Hamblin has done so here. But it’s this lavishly realistic sincerity and authenticity that really pulls you into For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream, and is completely endearing because so many of us have had such similar pieces of private banter with loved ones. It’s hilarious and offers a light edge to a truly horrific and unimaginable situation, that is piqued with hilariously indecent and inappropriate jokes.
But as For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream gets more intense, the complexity and effectiveness of this detailed observation takes true effect. The games and quips become not just ways to pass time, but are scared avoidance tactics from facing real issues. Little in-jokes, when not reciprocated as they were previously in a less strained context, become gut-wrenchingly heartbreaking. Then, there’s the realisation that the audio books that Hamblin has chosen hold a dangerously dark and sinister relevance. So often in For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream the fun and the twisted intensity whiplashes from one to the other, but always in an organic moment meaning it does inch anywhere near melodrama and instead achieves something gripping and breath-stealing.
The only possible criticism I could offer is not one of quality, structure, or style, but simply that, for some audience members, parts of For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream might go over their heads if they aren’t too familiar with or haven’t directly experienced mental health issues. Things as nuanced as a “stop phrase”, which delivers a devastating blow at one point, is something you might not pick up on unless you knew what these were like. It doesn’t at all mean anyone will get lost or confused, it just means it doesn’t have the same impact as to those who do pick up on these. But otherwise, Hamblin’s portrayal of someone suffering from a mental health issues is truly outstanding. A’s behaviour is a normality that’s laced with small oddities, like it so often is in real life, and not at all some exaggerated caricature. Then, when A is at their lowest, Hamblin captures the catatonic inertia quietly, boldly, but perfectly.
As for me saying For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream will leave you winded, this isn’t an exaggeration. At the end of it, I felt breathless and with the dull numbness in my gut that you get when you get clobbered. Exceptional and shocking, this is a tantalisingly intelligent and empathetic portrayal of how we react and cope with extreme constants.
Direction and Production
It always astonishes me when a company makes brilliant use of the Tristan Bates Theatre’s space, realising a potential that isn’t often seen. Configuring the space into a thrust, Anna Reid’s design of clinical white walls and floor contrasts A and B’s desperate longing for intimacy, flanked by two entrances of translucent sheeting, and surrounded by a detritus of things that bring pleasant memories that are forever out of reach and cannot be touched. On top of this, Tom Smith’s lighting makes amazing use of creeping colour and shrinking light, and also illuminates things off stage, distorted through the translucent sheeting, to create some really stunning moments. Camerom Macaulay’s sound design is also as outstanding, from oppressing crescendos that bookmark scene changes, the boom of an otherworldly narrator, and (I’m pretty sure at several points) the faint screams of foxes. The combined effect is striking and chilling, but always leaves Hamblin and her co-star to do what they do unimpinged or distracted from.
Charlie Parham’s direction captures Hamblin’s whiplash pacing. From the strange and quick pushing of energy in seemingly playful moments, to times where soul-bearing conversations are allowed to seep in. But there’s always a sense of a twinge of unease in the pacing and tone of For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream that keeps you on alert and rolling with the glorious punches. But most strikingly is how Parham plays with breakneck and sinister surrealism in the sequences between scenes that plummet into a dark hyperactivity that is quietly terrifying.
Hamblin also stars as A in For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream, and is simply superb. Hamblin really gets into the intensity of her character, but also the playfulness that comes with it. It’s an almost exhausting performance as Hamblin is always moving at full-pelt, spurred by the clinical boredom of her situation and the hallmarks of her mental state. It’s a performance of concentrated and unyeilding focus that really propels For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream and gives it a strange and entrancing edge.
Zora Bishop as B is doting and sincere but always aches of the hurt and the impatience of the scenario. Bishop’s frustration always throbs beneath the surface, which means when it reaches boiling point, its consuming and obliterating. Bishop’s energy and tenacity of trying to keep the relationship and herself together is simply sundering, especially when she maintains composure but has to bow out because it’s all too much.
Together, there’s a chemistry between Hamblin and Bishop that is completely believable, despite displaying the unreal scars of the adversity of what has come before. These are two very real people in an unreal situation, and how both Hamblin and Bishop embody these which an almost blasé recognition of these, but a focus on the now and nothing else of their characters, are signs of superlative performers.
For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream is like a kiss laced with chilli, or a held hand wrapped in barbed-wire: comforting and familiar, but with a blissful pain and difficulty that pierces you. An exceptional piece of new writing.
For Those Who Cry When They Hear The Foxes Scream plays at the Tristan Bates Theatre, London, WC2H 9NP, until 2 July 2016. Tickets are £15 (concessions available). To book, visit www.tristanbatestheatre.co.uk.