A frequent Court collaborator, Vanessa Stalling is no stranger to our stage. She most recently directed Titanic: Scenes from the British Wreck Commissioner’s Inquiry, 1912 and Photograph 51 and soon, she’ll have another title to add to that list: Caryl Churchill’s Fen.
Here, Vanessa shares some insight into this production and its haunting beauty, stoking excitement and intrigue for Churchill’s feminist drama.
Written in an episodic series of vignettes, Caryl Churchill’s 1983 play Fen is as much a story about social and economic constraints as it is a ghost story. It is as much a story about pursuing one’s ability to have agency and make choices about one’s life as it is a great love story. And so it is that a play written decades ago still speaks to us today.
When I see the play in my head, I see three worlds living all together in one place. There is the 1983 world of the English fens, where every move is dictated by economic necessity. Alongside this world, just out of reach, is one of beauty, of desires, of possibility, of choice. And riding underneath both of these is the world of ghosts and all who came before us…causing us to think about the impact of our actions on future generations decades from now.
Although the majority of the play follows a woman named Val and her pursuit of a better life, it also provides us the opportunity to meet several incredible women. Like Val, each woman is a rebel, struggling in her own unique way to thrive in a world that demands choices be made by economic necessity rather than by desires, dreams, or love. I don’t think the play is called an Expressionist play, but thinking about Expressionism is helpful to me when I think about this play. Through it, we have access to how the world makes the women of this play feel – feelings of isolation, of endurance, and ultimately of a great power deep down that they must simply trust is there.
Some may want to call this play a tragedy. But thinking of it like that isn’t helpful to me. It somehow negates the power of the play. Instead, I think of the play as a dark beauty, one that must go to a dark place in order to reveal beauty and possibility that have been here all along.