Edinburgh Fringe Review: Ours Was the Fen Country, Dan Canham

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Being six metres below sea level, the chances of East Anglia slowly disappearing with the rising of sea waters is inevitable. The stretches of land that extend into the horizon, flat as far as the eye can see, known as the Fens, will be submerged with water in the years to come. Farmland and homes will be washed away. Years of agriculture will be lost, and the history of the Fens will be in stories and folklore the future. Ours Was the Fen Country is a verbatim dance piece that explores the relationship between the people who live on the Fens and the rising of the sea. Presented by Still House and created by Dan Canham, this tender and reflective piece is like the sea that is slowly stretching its long hand across the Fens, slow but swiftly moving.

The performers sync their iPods so that they can hear the voices of those people whose words they speak during the performance. At times we, too, can hear the people that Canham has interviewed about their stories and views on the Fens. The performers mimic these voices, their intonations and pauses, and much like other verbatim pieces in recent years, at times these comments are funny, at other moments they are softly charming.

Canham’s choreography is poetic and moves the performers across the space with ease. There’s a distinctly rural quality to the work, helped by the voices within the piece but also through the music and sounds that punctuate the work. For all its gentleness, I can’t help but desire more from Ours Was the Fen Country. At the moment it is reflective and dream-like, with the characters and dances swaying into focus and back out again. Canham’s work, whilst poignant, lacks a definitive punch, which may not be such a bad thing for a piece of work that doesn’t demand action as lands disappear, but offers a form of reflection. It’s poetic and beautiful, but beyond capturing the shifting of land beneath the inhabitants of the Fens, it is a piece that slowly disappears after you leave with no further resonance.

 Originally published on A Younger Theatre.