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You Don’t Own Me

Fen explores themes that are undeniably relevant, as playwright Caryl Churchill’s scrutiny of gender equality, aspiration, and destiny still applies in the 21st century. To capture the emotions and attitudes of the characters in the play, we compiled a playlist to shed light on their personalities and encapsulate their mindset as they live and die within an inescapable system.

The songs included on this playlist won’t be included in the production itself; rather, this playlist is intended to be an entry point into the world of the play and the characters within. The playlist is presented as one unit, with individual songs representing different characters. Below, each song is listed in relation to what character/theme it parallels, along with a brief discussion pointing out these similarities.

*Note: As with several of Churchill’s plays, Fen has a large cast of characters. For the purposes of this playlist, we chose to focus only on a select few, specifically those who most of the play revolves around.

    • “The Cave” by Mumford & Sons, cover by Vanessa Carlton 
      • Characters in the play, especially Val, certainly would agree with the sentiment behind the lyrics “I need freedom now and I need to know how to live my life as it’s meant to be” as they struggle with the reality of the Fens, their reactions ranging from resignation to defiant in their attempts to reconcile what they may want and what is forced upon them. People like Val and Nell try to buck their situation in different ways, from escapism in other people to defying social standards as they are faced with the vision of what life is meant to look like in the Fens and their own reworked version of it for their individual selves. Staring down a life of social immobility, they indeed “know [their] call despite [their] faults and despite [their] growing fears”. Some community members try to support one another, like when Alice tries to help Val in the only way she knows how by bringing her to church to seek solace. Embodied by their initiated coping mechanisms, they try to “find strength in the pain”.
    • “You Painted Yourself In” by Jolie Holland
      • This song encapsulates the feeling of inescapability that pervades the text, with the lyrics “you painted yourself in” as a reflection of Val’s choice to stay. However, her retained sense of dissatisfaction and claustrophobia serves as a reason why she felt she “had no choice except to fly” when she first tried to leave with Frank and her children. The “invisible light in [her] lover’s heart” was just another incentive for Val to try and escape yet “what burns up is torn away” as the love between them ends tragically upon their decision to stay.
  • VAL:
    • “Where Does the Good Go?” by Tegan and Sara
      • The lyrics “Where do you go when you’re in love and the world knows?” applies to the predicament Val finds herself in as the entire town knows of her affair with Frank and she is forced to stay there to face the gossip. The lyrics “How do you live so happily, while I am sad and broken?” applies as well. Although her fellow Fenland people are not happy, they have resigned themselves to their lives rather than entertain thoughts of something more like Val does. Her love of Frank was a source of potential escape, yet ended up being another reminder and tether to the life that chafed her.
    • “Ordinary Life” by David Mead
      • Val indeed wanted to “save [herself] from an ordinary life” and, for a time, “tried to be good but [was] still bored” because “she just [didn’t] care for the ordinary life”. She tried to live contentedly with her husband and children, then tried to find happiness with Frank while still being connected to her children, but found it impossible to reconcile all her different desires in a stifled environment.
  • FRANK:
    • “Trouble” by Cat Stevens
      • Trouble plagues Frank as he and Val struggle to stay together. The weariness of the song encapsulates Frank’s sense of resignation and hopelessness. When their relationship culminates in its tragic ending, when he tries to free Val as she wants but they only discover there truly is no escape, Frank’s sorrow surely aligned with the lyrics that it had all been too much for his heart to handle.
    • “A Picture of Me” by Lorrie Morgan
      • When Val chooses her old life over staying with Frank, he does not deny he wants her back. 
  • NELL: “You Don’t Own Me” by Lesley Gore
    • Nell is the most defiant of the group, living within the confines of the Fens but refusing to fit the mold. She is her own person and is not afraid to remind those around her of it.
  • ANGELA:“Empathy” by Dead by April 
    • Angela is an abusive stepmother toward Becky. Angela asks her stepdaughter directly why she is nice to her when all Angela does is abuse Becky. Abuse is a cycle and the narcissistic undercurrents to this song just reflect how thoroughly Angela manipulates Becky.
  • BECKY:
    • “Luka” by Suzanne Vega
      • Becky knows “just not to argue anymore” with Angela, as she knows the painful consequences, yet, as displayed in a scene early on, she cannot stamp out the fire of defiance in her, refusing to call Angela “mother” until she is forced to do so.
    • “Paper Doll” by Bea Miller
      • Becky’s spirit is not extinguished despite Angela’s most valiant attempts to make her a deferential stepdaughter. She suffers under Angela but is still able to rise above her, even feeling some degree of empathy toward her tormentor.
  • SHONA:“Everything is Beautiful When You Don’t Look Down” by Glasseater
    • When visiting Val, her mother, Shona maintains a level of obliviousness to the situation, eagerly firing off replies about her life without her mother. However, it is evident she remains acutely aware of the situation despite her age, knowing full well from the reactions of others “there is so much out there / to see when you read in between the lines / but most of the time / there’s nothing we can do”.
  • DEB:
    • “Baker Street” by Gerry Rafferty
      • Deb is angry with her mother Val for leaving. The lyrics “another year and then you’d be happy / Just one more year and then you’d be happy / But you’re crying, you’re crying now” can refer to Deb’s reaction toward her mother’s decision. Deb is scornful and knows that her indecisive mother will not be content no matter her choice.
    • “All You’ll Ever Need to Know” by Actionslacks
      • With her mother gone, alongside the task of taking care of her sister and working in the fields, Deb knows early on that “there is no one here / to hold [her] hand” along the way. She is “much too young to be resigned”, but that is the accepted way of life in the Fens and she knows no other life. The lyrics “Are you happy today? Tell me honestly / Is the place where you stand / where you want to be?” is not only representative of Deb’s resentment toward her mother as she wonders about the longevity and viability of Val’s decision, but also encapsulates the sentiment of the entire play. No one is happy where they are but are resigned to continue on.
  • ALICE:
    • “40” by U2
      • Amidst the hopelessness of the Fens, Alice looks to religion for comfort and tries to introduce Val to the local church services in an attempt to help her friend find some solace during tumultuous times. Religion offers Alice a new song to sing, but “how long to sing this song” remains an ever present question as she contends with a lifetime of suppressing discontentment in the Fens.
    • “A Soapbox Opera” by Supertramp
      • In dreary times, Alice feels she “[has] to believe in something” to maintain her semblance of sanity. Yet, as everyone in the Fens feels, she finds it difficult to see a greater purpose in their lives, referring to religion for some guidance for her insignificant life, as embodied by the lyrics “Mary, oh tell me what I’m living for / ‘Cause I feel like I’m tossed in the river.”
    • “9 to 5” by Dolly Parton 
      • Shirley is resigned to the laborer’s life. She has seen harsh times and expects to see more, believing her current situation to be better than the past as she and her husband Geoffrey continue their lives in the Fens. Though there’s no ambition here, as referenced in the song, the monotonous necessity of soul-crushing work that devalues the individual female worker is something both women experience.
    • “The Last Goodbye” by Lacuna Coil
      • Just as most others in the Fens, any aspirations Shirley had are now extinguished so that indeed “these broken dreams have been resigned”.

Fen runs from Feb 10, 2023 — Mar 05, 2023 and tickets are available now.

Posted on January 17, 2023 in Productions

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