Edinburgh Fringe 2013
For the past two years Dan Canham (DV8 / Kneehigh / Punchdrunk) has been capturing conversations with people of the Fens, East Anglia. Eel-catchers, farmers, parish councillors, conservationists have all been interviewed. In this ethereal piece of documentary dance/theatre, Dan and his ensemble fuse movement and sound with words and memories from their native collaborators to get to the heart of this mysterious expanse of flat land, celebrating universal stories of rural communities fading from view.
It is not often that an area of bleak bog-land sparks a piece of dance theatre, yet this is exactly what happened with the East Anglian Fens and Still House. The company spent time in the Fens, interviewing the people who live and work there about the area’s history and imminent destruction. What results from this talented young company is a very interesting piece of verbatim work, interwoven with music and movement.
The Fens is a fairly large area of drained land, criss-crossed with dykes and boasting soil that is like black gold, where anything will grow. This rich and peaty soil is diminishing though, and from the interviews we hear that people in the area are worrying that within a few decades the fens will have gone – the fertile soil blown and washed away. With the show, Still House have quite remarkably managed to make something that it beautiful, lyrical and fascinating from a subject that could quite easily be spectacularly dull. None of the interviews we hear contain any salacious revelations, dark mysteries or gossipy stories – mostly they are about farming, fishing and the environment. Yet it is exactly this simplicity and humanity that make it work. ‘Ours Was The Fen Country’ gives the audience a unique insight into a country way of life, and a part of Britain which many people (myself included) probably know nothing about.
The company, consisting of four actor/dancers, mix and mash up snippets of recorded interviews with moments of movement and dance, sometimes solo sometimes ensemble. The most enjoyable of these was the dance they did to a repetitious track of someone speaking about the fact that the Fen country was once the territory of William the Conqueror. The understated words, combined with music, formed the perfect backdrop for the tightly choreographed movement. The dance element made this performance what it was, and I would say that there would be room for much more movement, as at times it did feel quite static, with the actors sitting or standing still quite a lot of the time
This piece manages to comment not only on the Fens but also on the diminishing connection that we as a society have with the land. We hear a story from the person who is the last one to be making old-fashioned eel traps, and who wants their daughter to go to university meaning she probably won’t take on the family trade. We also hear tales from a farmer who simply cannot make ends meet and will probably have to sell. We also hear the fears about the havoc climate change and rising sea levels could have on this landscape that is barely feet above sea level. The show is beautifully put together and serves as a tribute to this little-known area of country and the people within it, and also a memorial to ways of life and a whole tract of countryside that may soon be lost to the wind, the seas or to modernisation.