Fen

Wed 1st – Sat 4th March 2017

reviews

Clare Cavenagh

at 21:53 on 1st Mar 2017

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Initially, I thought it was going to be very difficult to describe Fen, a play born of Daisy Johnson's first short story collection. The opening, which features much swapping of characters between actors, and quite a few introductions of new storylines, it seemed as though this show was going to be something like a set of serious sketches. As time wore on however, the show became less fragmented. Some storylines ended or fizzled out, others became more expansive and absorbing, before one finally took the lead. Having watched the whole production, Fen is a series of vaguely interwoven tales all shaped by the landscape in some way. Some of the stories are firmly grounded in reality, but many of them wander into the imaginary, mysterious and possibly magic.

With constantly shifting focus in terms of the stories being portrayed, stage space is incredibly well managed. Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell's set is clever and interesting to look at, mixing more traditional elements (different levels, items of furniture, etc) and three screens onto which images are sometimes projected. This was highly effective, and utilised very well to portray scenes which would have otherwise been nearly impossible to perform onstage. The set also deftly divides the stage into several distinct spaces, allowing characters to move from place to place. These spaces themselves were versatile enough to represent a range of spaces, putting a large number of locations at the production's disposal without the need for any material changes.

Performances from the cast were strong. Louis Norris touchingly portrayed a sailor writing home about the albatross he thinks might be following him, bringing a childlike eye-twinkle which was charming but also poignant. Martha Murphy was slinky and cringeworthy as an American swanning about the Fens in gap yah trousers, cigarette between her fingers. Emma Corrin was quiet and intriguing as a young mother with an unnerving eel-obsession, but really came into her own as a gossiping schoolgirl, eliciting some of the biggest and most hearty laughs of the show. Sarah Creedy-Smith's understated performance made her feel like the dependable centre of the show, and in her scenes with Corrin's schoolgirl, she deftly provided the straight and sane counter to the more ridiculous subjects of gossip.

The one criticism which might be levelled at Fen is paradoxically also its biggest strength. An audacious adaptation of a short-story collection into a play requires both a sense of cohesiveness, but also necessitates a kind of fragmentation. Overlapping of characters and interweaving of stories helps with this, but while watching Fen, the production can seem a little too disjointed. Where there would be the expectation of a number of different stories in a collection, in a play there is an expectation of unity, of arriving at a point where you can see all the links, of getting to a conclusion. Fen only partially provides this, and in the theatre, it sometimes felt as though something might be missing, like things were hanging together a little too loosely. With some time to digest the performance, however, I have found that Fen sticks in your head, the stories swirl around, it's a little haunting. This clinging on makes Fen a success. Next time I'm out walking, I'll look over those flat, grassy fields with curiosity, and more than a little trepidation.

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