FEN To 26 March.

London.

FEN
by Caryl Churchill.

Finborough Theatre above The Finborough Wine Café 118 Finborough Road SW10 9ED To 26 March 2011.
Tue-Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat & Sun 3pm.
Runs 1hr 45min No interval.

TICKETS: 0844 847 1652 (24hr no booking fee).
www.finboroughtheatre.co,.uk
Review: Timothy Ramsden 6 March.

Unsentimental view of country life sharply revived.
Transformed into the Fenborough, the Finborough’s auditorium is covered right down its central strip with rich Fenland soil, on which the characters live their lives of, largely, agricultural impoverishment. Caryl Churchill’s 1983 play, written for Max Stafford-Clark’s Joint Stock Theatre, ploughs the geographical area where Arnold Wesker a generation earlier had found cultural impoverishment in Roots.

Through terse realism, political cartoon theatre and supernatural elements Churchill explores the lives of women (the sole male plays roles displaying male inadequacy and unwillingness to commit) on an environment at once rich and back-breakingly unyielding. They gather potatoes, then stones. A hungry Ghost threatens a landowner with the burnings and animal maimings by which the poor once survived.

A Japanese businessman extols the profit of this costly land at the start; later a farmer laden with debts is induced to sell his farm to a city corporation, whose power-suited female representative has to force a smile when invited to tread, in unsuitable high-heels, the land she complacently snaps-up.

There are brief moments of assertion, and more sustained ones of country cruelty within the family, and a relation between forewoman and workers which can incorporate cold authority and personal helpfulness. By the end, it’s unclear whether these people determine the land’s fate, or the land theirs. (The grim conclusion, ironically, looks forward to the opening of the Finborough’s other current offering The December Man).

For the Finborough these open a three-month ‘In Their Place’ season of women’s plays. For producers Iron Shoes Ria Parry’s production is a triumphant revival, with a set of immaculate, detailed performances matching Churchill’s compacted style, its short scenes veering round levels of the community and those who come in to affect it, the language sharply pointed, words striking or pushing the air.

Val’s temporary hopes and surrender, Angela’s mix of cruelty to her daughter with prompts to the girl to stand against her, even Mrs Hassett’s mix of command and comradeship, point to a life where land, physically underpinning existence in James Button’s traverse setting, is both means of living yet, as property or corporate asset, a tie that binds life down.

Boy/Angela/Deb/Mrs Finch: Nicola Harrison.
Japanese Businessman/Nell/May/Mavis: Rosie Thomson.
Mrs Hassett/Becky/Alice/Ivy: Elicia Daly.
Val/Ghost: Katherine Burford.
Shirley/Shona/Miss Cade/Margaret: Wendy Nottingham.
Wilson/Frank/Mr Tewson/Geoffrey: Alex Beckett.

Director: Ria Parry.
Designer: James Button.
Lighting: David W Kidd.
Sound/Composer: Dave Price.

2011-03-11 00:30:03

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