Drama students take to the field

Fen experimented with the great outdoors—Chernoff Field.
Fen experimented with the great outdoors—Chernoff Field.

This past weekend, a group of Queen’s drama students performed their production of Fen, in association with Knockabout Theatre Company and The Single Thread Theatre Company.

Fen, written by English playwright Caryl Churchill, is a story of a community of farmers and their complex relationships with each other, as well as the conflicts within themselves.

Drama student Sasha Kovacs showed skill beyond her years in her direction of this show, and with the help of a talented cast, created a highly emotional and moving version of the play.

Set in the Fenlands of North England in the 1980s, Fen follows the stories of a group of labourers from four generations as they endure the hardships of their work in the fields in cold weather and blistering winds. Their identities are woven into the land they work, and for them, work is life. The play revolves around one main plotline—-the story of Val, a married woman involved in an affair with another farmer, Frank. Val is trying to escape with him from her confined and suffocating life in the Fenlands, but she is unable to part from her two young girls, Deb and Shona. The remaining characters including Frank’s wife and daughter, are all somehow connected to this main plot, going about their lives around the scandal caused by Val. Frank’s daughter Becky is constantly tormented and abused by her resentful mother, who seems determined to make her own kin hate her.

The play continues as Val tries to find the answer to her life-altering predicament: whether to stay and live with her children, or to leave them and run away with the man she loves. Her final decision is a result of her emotional and tragic situation, having to choose between the two lives that lie ahead of her, and she cannot bring herself to do either.

Fen involves a very small cast of six people, each playing several roles, with each character indicated through the costume change that each character performs on stage. The audience watches as the actors literally “morph” into their characters through the action of putting on their costumes. While doing so, they actually become different people, showing different mannerisms and taking on different voices.

Fen is a play that revolves around language, voices and the problems of communication. This small group of talented actors perfected the Northern accents to such a degree that the audience becomes absorbed in their culture and life. Kat Sandler’s performance as the conflict-ridden Val displayed such real and utterly believable emotion during her weekend performance that she silenced the audience as she worked through her heart-breaking speeches. Every character was flawed and imperfect, but so completely human that it was impossible not to relate to each of them.

Fen is set in the soil of the English farmlands, and appropriately but unusually, this production constructed their stage out of dirt, giving it a sizable degree of authenticity. Hidden within the soil were props that were removed and used in the play, indicating that everything the characters had came from the land. The situations the characters are in seem so miserable and desperate as they struggle through their hardships. Strangely, it does not evoke pity, but instead evokes sympathy and a hope within the audience that the people of the Fenlands will overcome the intense conflicts they face.

This play is slightly abstract in its presentation, and for a viewer who is unfamiliar with this type of theatre, it can be slightly hard to follow. Fortunately, the talent of the actors, along with the emotion and depth they bring to their parts, enable the viewer to become completely engulfed in the lives of these real, true characters. Nothing about this play, from the set to the character relationships, is typical. Fen goes back to the basics of humanity, the earth and the nature of man, and is so easily believable and accessible because the Fenland people are so real. There is no Hollywood happy ending, or a pretense of perfection—only the flawed human characters that evolve before the audience.

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