This play takes on a tall order: fleshing out the landscape of the fens.

ADC ADC main show cambridge student cambridge student theatre fens student theatre The Fens

“It’s a bit bleak, isn’t it?” Since moving Cambridge, the question of why on earth humans would settle on the fens has always plagued me. This play attempts to answer it by showing the unbreakable symbiosis between nature and its unlikely inhabitants.

It was a brave idea from the Cambridge University Dramatic Amateur Club to adapt Daisy Johnson’s magical-realism short story book to the theatre. The original short stories evoke a Boris Vian-like surrealism while the characters’s coexistence with their environment are reflective of the Márquez novels.

You would think that the theatre would prove too big a challenge in presenting these literary complexities. Yet the company came through this problem successfully.  The use of wood, water, different sounds and voices, and the videos shot on the real fens created an authentic atmosphere without going over the top.

Posey Mehta and Emma Corrin. [Credit: Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell].

Generations were born and arrived into this environment or tried to escape from it. The play is mostly from young adults’ views of what it is like living, sticking and sinking in the bog. The fen is source both of life and danger. Sound familiar?

The characters tell mystical stories similar to Grimm tales, but after a while, even they can’t decide where the border is between reality and imagination. Nature, humans and animals morph into each other. How can a girl become an eel? How can a man get inside an albatross or a fox? Will the mother give birth to a human or an animal at the end? Even the house is alive, jealously eating up a lover, as if it were the sump itself.

Os Leanse and Emma Corrin. Credits: Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell.

Nevertheless, the mysticism doesn’t diverge our attention from the people in the play. A finely tuned intimacy between characters glows strong in some scenes. The images of lovers embracing on the floor or the picture of the sleeping couple has such a confidential mood, that the audience is made to feel like a voyeur.

Feeling like a voyeur. Credits: Evelyn Whorrall-Campbell.

The female protagonists are perhaps more defined, with a parallelism between the fertility of the landscape and feminity. From maternity, lesbian love, seduction to losing your virginity, a strong female sexuality pervades the play. Posey Mehta impressively grows old on stage, jumping from one part to another. Martha Murphy ’s transformation from spoilt temptress to hopeless pregnant bartender is so impressive that I didn’t realise that they are played by the same person until halftime. Sarah Creedy Smith’s grief is so striking that her one look is enough to feel shattered. Os Leanse’s and Benedict Clarke’s intense characterisations were certainly commendable; it is just that this play (very successfully) drew the most from the female characters.

Benedict Clarke and Os Leanse. [Credit: Johannes Hjorth].

The Fen is not a farce for tired evenings, but rather a creative and interesting show unafraid of taking risks. I will certainly look at the landscape of the Fens in a whole new way. 

4/5 stars