Caryl Churchill displays her acute sense of relationship tension in all of her work, but Fen truly captures how our relationships with others shape who we become.
In this multi-storyline play, Churchill presents an analysis of personality development and engages the audience by bringing the darker side of family life to the forefront.
This is a brilliant performance conducted by all the actors onstage. They deliver the wit, feeling and passion of Churchill’s writing with striking believability.
The romance between Val (Livia Dymond) and Frank (Ray Strachan) is bittersweet, punctuated with Val’s inability to live her life including both her children and the man she loves. The bold characters played by Nan Fewchuk are portrayed with great energy, demonstrating the strength of will of working class women.
The ability of each actor to play multiple characters is representative of their talent. Jane Burpee, in particular, is excellent at switching from a convincing child of six years old to a middle-aged woman within seconds.
We are also witness to how children are affected by their parents’ actions. Violence and neglect share the stage to trap the young girls in the same misery that the adults experience.
Fen combines contemporary themes with old-fashioned values. It invites the audience to see through the façade that individuals put on, emphasizing the inescapability of society.
This play was written in the early ‘80s, but the issues it looks at – love, betrayal, abandonment, abuse and the struggles of social class – are no different than any of the issues we face on a daily basis in modern society.
The Rachel Browne Studio set is beautifully arranged with four different platforms to highlight different homes, a tractor and a church. Woodchips are laid in neat rows to indicate the fields that the women work in.
Directed by Hope McIntyre, the precision of timing in the quick turnover between scenes is flawless.
As with many of Churchill’s plays, the actors in the performance are already in character before it has even started. In this case, we see a tired worker in the fields, foreshadowing the resigned desperation of the women and men in the story.
Achieving happiness may be futile for the characters of Fen, but it is the search for something better that defines these characters and, arguably, every one of us.