Caryl Churchill's Fen is the latest revival at the Finborough, the story of a group of people (mostly women) working the land in the Norfolk Fenlands. Ria Parry's production keeps the play in its original 1982 setting as we see people whose families have worked there for centuries and who don't seem to be much more than serfs even in the 20th Century as Thatcherite policies and corporate buyouts make sure the money goes elsewhere. We follow the story of Val (Katherine Burford) whose life is constantly unsettled as she keeps changing her mind about leaving her husband and children to move in with her lover (Alex Beckett.) A whole flood of other stories are going on around this as well though, with Beckett, Elicia Daly, Nicola Harrison, Wendy Nottingham and Rosie Thomson playing numerous characters and for the most part doing a nice job differentiating between them.
The Finborough never lacks in ambition with its sets and James Button gives us a traverse with a strip of field in the middle, and a little wooden bridge crossing it. There's plenty of nice touches in the sound design as well, from the '80s pop hits (Olivia Newton John! Bucks Fizz!) to composer Dave Price throwing in the occasional hint of Japanese music, to remind us of the corporation who ultimately own the land everyone's working on. But I don't think Churchill's tendency towards flights of fancy are handled too well, the play balances realism, fantasy and a fairytale aesthetic (there's even a wicked stepmother) and together with the huge set of characters this unevenness makes it hard to really engage with the stories being told; although the climactic dreamlike sequence is rather beautifully done.
Fen by Caryl Churchill is booking until the 26th of March at the Finborough Theatre.