Fen is flawless

The Uniter – February 3rd 2010

Fen is flawless

Delivering wit, feeling and passion with striking believability, Sarasvati’s Fen is a knockout

by Sagan Morrow (Volunteer)

Directed by Hope McIntyre

Presented by Sarasvati Productions as part of Churchill Fest
Plays at the Rachel Browne Studio (211 Bannatyne Ave.) until Sunday, Feb. 7

4-half out of 5 stars

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.

Fen Review

Sarasvàti Productions
Until Feb. 7, Rachel Browne Studio

For the female farmers of The Fens, life stinks more than the sloughs that once stood under their feet.

Set in The Fenlands of eastern England, a low-lying, naturally soggy region that was drained for agricultural purposes in the 18th and 19th centuries, Fen explores the exploitation of the land and the labourer, and the troubles that follow.

After toiling in the muck all day, the women workers go home to failed relationships, domestic abuse and even death. In Churchill’s characteristically complex style, the women’s plight is illustrated through several storylines. For example, Fen’s main character, Val (Livia Dymond), has not only left her husband for a new beau (Ray Strachan), but also her two children, while Angela (Toni Reimer), after sweating in the slog, goes home only to take her frustrations out on her stepdaughter Becky (Rhea Fedorchuk).

Directed by Hope McIntyre, the Sarasvàti cast is quite capable, especially when breaking out into song. I particularly enjoyed Fedorchuk’s Becky, Nan Fewchuk as one of the potato pickers and Jane Burpee (Ace’s mom) as one of Val’s children. Not exactly a kid anymore, Burpee has no problem channelling her inner child. Also, the set is excellent, with rows of potatoes covering the floor.

Churchill’s 1983 play is in no doubt a response to the massive unemployment and struggles of the working class that occurred in England under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. Although it is not outwardly announced that this is a 1980s piece, Becky’s leg warmers sure do give it away.
— Jared Story