Caro Meets Theatre Interview

James Hillier: Foxes

By | Published on Friday 8 October 2021

I’ve been looking forward to ‘Foxes’ ever since I heard about it – an exploration of masculinity and homosexuality within London’s Caribbean community and black street culture focusing on Daniel, a young black man “trying to keep up with his life, which is moving fast”.

The play is the debut work from writer Dexter Flanders, and was shortlisted for the Alfred Fagon Award, so it’s safe to say that it’s a highly promising piece.

To find out more about the play, and the team behind the production, I had a quick chat with director James Hillier.

CM: Can you start by telling us what ‘Foxes’ is all about in terms of the narrative? Whose story does it tell and what happens?
JH: ‘Foxes’ is the story of a young black man growing up in London who, in an explosive moment with his friend, has his life turned upside down and has to question everything he thought about himself and his life.

CM: What themes does the play explore?
JH: Sex, identity, love and family.

CM: How would you describe it in terms of style, or genre?
JH: The show is fresh, edgy, urban and slick. I’d say the genre is drama. There are lots of laughs but it also explores serious subjects.

CM: What do you like about the play? What attracts you to it as a director?
JH: I’d never seen anything like it when I attended a reading three years ago. For a start, I’d never heard young black characters in a play talking to each other like this, in a way that felt totally real and how young people do actually talk to each other. Also, it’s just one of the best plays I’ve ever come across.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the writer, Dexter Flanders? Has he been involved in the ongoing production?
JH: Dex has been re-writing a number of drafts as we went along. The Arts Council supported a workshop in 2019 which really helped us to shape the play, and he has been popping into rehearsals here and there to see how we’re looking after his baby.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the rest of your creative team?
JH: We have an amazing team, headed up by Josh Anio Grigg, who has designed sound all over the world and at the best theatres. On the lights and projection there is Will Monks, who I had the best time working with on ‘Sunnymead Court’ by Gemma Lawrence, and there is also Gerrard Martin looking after the movement. His energy in the room is lovely and the work he has done on the show really lifts the whole production.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about your cast?
JH: I won’t go through them one by one but they are a dream to work with, and every day I can’t wait to spend time with them in their company.

CM: You’re the artistic director of Defibrillator – what are the company’s aims and ethos?
JH: Our tagline is: stories that send an electric pulse to the heart.

CM: Everyone in the arts has been affected by the pandemic – how did you and the company get through the lockdown?
JH: We were fortunate. The Actors Centre asked us to put on a show and out of that came ‘Sunnymead Court’. The Arts Council very kindly supported that and we had an opportunity to bring the play back to the Arcola earlier this year.

CM: Did you always want to be a director? What steps did you take to forge a career as one?
JH: I trained as an actor at RADA. Now I look back I can see that directing was something I would often do as a kid… putting together shows for my family and friends. It’s a natural progression and works well alongside my acting, which still brings home the bacon.

CM: What aims and ambitions do you have for the future?
JH: I feel very lucky to do what I love, doing it with incredible creative people every day. My aim and ambition is to continue to make thrilling and thought provoking work.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
JH: A quiet walk on a beach would be nice.

‘Foxes’ is on at Theatre503 until 23 Oct. See the venue website here for more information and to book.

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