Let’s get one thing clear from the outset: though Mr Fox is fantastic, it isn’t a children’s tale. Inspired by the darkest of folklore, Polis Loizou’s accomplished piece of storytelling theatre imagines a present-day aristocrat narrating an age-old legend: that of a bold-hearted young noblewoman and her rakish suitor, with a terrible secret that’s waiting to be found.
Loizou is a compelling storyteller. He’s alone on a small stage, albeit one whose vaulted darkness perfectly suits the tone of his plot, yet his eloquence alone vividly conjures both his characters and their fantasy-mediaeval milieu. The world he brings to us to is rich and wondrous, with its gardens and horses and carefree love – all leading, inexorably and portentously, to a decaying castle in the woods. Towards the end, there were moments when I realised I was holding my breath as the gothic horror unfolded.
Much of the colour flows from the naughty-but-refined persona of the character who’s narrating the tale. Though he tries to stick to the “facts” of his story, he can’t resist diverting onto gossipy high-class innuendo, centred on his heroine’s lust for a strapping man. It’s funny in its own right, provides relief from the sometimes-grotesque story, and fleshes out our understanding of the intrepid Lady Mary – who’s lascivious, liberated or both, depending on your point of view.
There’s another story too, one much more personal to the aristocrat, hanging unspoken in the background. He knows we want to hear it, and he’s narrating Mr Fox to distract us – but every now and then, hints of his own notoriety emerge. The riddle, for me, is how much to link that framing story and the inner tale. There are some obvious parallels – both involve a woman uncovering the secrets of a dangerously-charming man – and there’s clearly a suspicion of a dark misdeed. But it’s unclear how far we should equate the serial-killer fox with the manipulative, but possibly maligned, man we now see.
Perhaps the ambiguity is the point, but it didn’t quite mesh together and I have an uneasy feeling that there’s an intent here I didn’t understand. But never mind: I still got to enjoy an at-times-witty, at-times-creepy tale from a masterful spinner of yarns, all delivered with easy warmth and studied charm. I can picture Loizou on the main stage at the Storytelling Centre – so catch him in this more intimate setting while you still can.