Fox is fabulous on stage

Publication: The West Australian
Author: Melanie Coram

29th September 2015

4.5 stars

Adapted from the book by Margaret Wild and Ron Brooks, Fox is a fable of friendship, belonging and envy set in the Australian outback.

In this part of the world, amid the red dirt and scorching heat, life can be hard for the weak and lonely.

Magpie, whose wing has been damaged in a fire, is descending into despair when she meets Dog. He has only one eye but, ever cheerful, Dog says it hasn’t slowed him down. His loyalty and companionship are boundless. Never mind that hurt Magpie shies away at first, Dog is persistent.

Every time his leg quivers or he rolls over for a tummy rub, the audience giggles at Imanuel Dado’s likeness to a pup.

As Magpie, Jessica Lewis is whimpering and hesitant, having to be pulled into adventure by Dog. When she gives in, she finds that he can be her wings and she is his missing eye. Together the harsh desert is their playground.

Michael Barlow directs this vibrant and beautiful production, having co-created the show with Jacob Lehrer and Spare Parts guiding light Noriko Nishimoto.

In some of Lehrer’s most joyful choreography, Dog and Magpie channel the bliss that comes from having a best friend, when the days last forever and there’s nothing to do but play, joke, laugh, fall down and get back up again.

If you’re on the inside, there’s no more wonderful place than inside that bestie bubble. But if you’re on the outside looking in — as is Fox — loneliness can fester into jealousy and rage.

The fox of this play is as sneaky and black-hearted as any in literature. He’s as manipulative as the con-man fox who tries to murder Pinocchio and as grasping as Aesop’s fox who cynically dismisses the grapes he can’t reach.

While Fox is a dark force between Dog and Magpie, designer Leon Hendroff’s Fox puppet is luminous. Rachel Arianne Ogle skulks and swirls him across the stage with menace.

In addition to the grace and athleticism of the three performers, Kyle Morrison narrates, bringing together dance, dialogue and the book.

This is as close an adaptation to a book as any play could get with Wild’s words spoken and Brooks’ haunting illustrations used in the staging.

Also key to the success of Fox is Lee Buddle’s music which propels the story through light and shade, never allowing moments of darkness to lag in energy.

Between Dog’s delight, Fox’s villainy and Magpie’s redemption, children will find a lot to love here.

Fox is at Spare Parts Puppet Theatre, Fremantle, until October 10. Bookings essential at sppt.asn.au