The fenlands of East Anglia are an unsettling area. The vast expanse of big skies and dark earth seeming somewhat unnatural to visitors. It’s an area that has undergone considerable change as man drained the land to create some of the most fertile land in the country.
Dan Canham and Silent House have used interviews with 20 fenland residents as the starting point for the latest project. It’s still in the very early stages of development, with the company having just had 2 weeks to develop the piece. Despite the raw state of the piece it already shows great potential.
Mixing verbatim techniques championed by such works as London Road, Canham and company mix live performance with actual residents’ testimony. Through words, movement and sound we hear of the challenges of living in such an exposed and remote setting.
Tales of houses crammed with 24 adults and 34 children, the struggle between traditional Fenlanders and those newcomers who want to drain the land, the distrust of outsiders and a sense of being trapped in the fens, all prevailing themes in this look at an isolated community.
There’s a reflection of the agricultural heritage reflected in the movement. Rhythmic foot stamping, suggesting working the land, ploughing and sowing seed forms the central movement motif.
Despite the toughness of life, there’s also humour here. Stories of Eel heads being used for finger puppets illicit one of several laughs.
There’s obviously still work to do to shape the structure and narrative drive but considering the short germination time, the finished product looks set to be a show to savour.
Originally written for The Public Reviews