Ours was the Fen Country – Flat, Flat, Flat!

A dance-theatre documentary-style performance of the few Fen Country folk living and working off the lowest lying area of England – 4 metres below sea-level in some parts – offered an unexpected deeply personal insight to life there. Using a mixture of audio-tapes from interviews with the personalities that colour a notoriously flat area, the Director Dan Canham artfully wove together a nostalgic portrayal of a community in decline.

The haunting presence of the various character’s voices being played back and mimed on stage shifting to a complete impersonation mid-sentence was a new technique to get used too, but the subtle mimicking of their imagined gestures and mannerisms along with the music gently eased the audience in. Intricately layering the key slices of the recordings he’d made through repetition and extension, Dan gradually built up the atmosphere of the Fen country, along side images of the engulfing skies and “wild” track, perhaps to reflect his own personal experience as he continued to re-visit areas and build up relationships.

The hardy, determined attitude of people who remain in what appears to be a desolate place often conveyed a sense of hopelessness, especially when one older man mentions how it has all gone quiet now… silent – and you could hear the silence, no birds, just the wind keeping the status-quo. But there are moments of relief as essentially a very private group of people who generally keep themselves-to-themselves gradually open to share their rare perspectives and deep knowing insights from their connection to the land. A young man of about twenty talks about his love for the simple work he describes, as “shovelling shit”. This gives way to elation by the end and a celebration of the abundance of life, the vibrancy of the soil and a life deeply connected to the land.

I left feeling Dan had successfully made the views of a people, whose way of life is so separate, perhaps considered insignificant to dominant UK culture – terrifyingly accentuate, by contrast, the majority of the population’s extreme dislocation from the land off of which we survive.

As one of the last eel-catchers who still weaves his own nets while remembering the many who have done so before him, said in his gruff, matter-of-fact way, “Nature always wins, yes… and we’ve lost respect for nature we have.. so we’ll lose out.. and you know what.. i hope we do.. i hope we do.”

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