"They're dangerously fertile"HANNAH MACHOVER

I walked into the Blythe Room of Clare Colony and was ignored by Louis Rogers and his cast for nearly 20 minutes. It was maybe the most enthralling rehearsal I’ve ever seen.

Louis, dressed in a white t-shirt, black Levi’s, with long blonde hair and spectacles pranced ridiculously around the floor in bare feet completely engrossed. Giving up on trying to chat to Louis, I managed to get hold of Posey Mehta, who explained: “We’re trying to be storytellers, what we’re presenting isn’t a play about a family from beginning to end, it's a play very much about the fens, and if I could make it so that the audience walked away from it with one thing it would be this kind of encompassing, almost unnerving feeling of the fens as a landscape. They're dangerously fertile, there’s something about how empty they are. They have potent fecundity, and that allows for living things to shift in ways they wouldn't otherwise.”

“We’re trying to be storytellers”

Fen is a devised play based on the short story collection written by Daisy Johnson.“We worked together at a bookshop at home. I read some of the stories, and when the collection came out I thought it could make a really cool basis for a show.” Louis went on to say: “It's about the landscape and the land and the strange earth that surrounds Cambridge, which is very distinctive. Doing it now, and seeing it all come together, it's really about young characters who are trying to figure themselves out, figuring out how they relate to others and how they relate to themselves.”

Louis leads a rehearsalMeggie Lönngren Sampaio

I asked how they had gone about devising the script. “We started by reading the stories a lot and aloud and together and finding where the scenes were, and worked from there up, improving and deciding and talking a lot. We did it, when possible, as much ‘on location’ as possible; we went out to Ely and Wickham Fen to do that stuff, but also in kitchens and bedrooms.”

My college mum, Hannah Machover, had told me about the exciting sound and technology experimenting which has been taking place. “Chris (Lazenblatt) has been recording some rehearsals, and recording when we go out to the fens. Also Frank (Martin), who is doing the film... we’ve tried to keep it a very open rehearsal space, so we’re always working together. The sound is very useful because its a reference point for our rehearsals, we can go back and not forget it, and use it in the play.”


The rehearsal period felt very intimate which would be tricky to recreate in the ADC. How do you think its all going to work in the main theatre? “It's a challenge. But it's totally ready for the big stage. It's been made for the ADC. The ADC is an amazingly versatile space, but also something you have to work against. It's to an extent impersonal. If we want to make something which is intimate and strange and to persuade people to come we have to work hard to make the scene really intimate, to make the sounds very intimate.”

In the short story collection all the protagonists are women. I asked how the cast thought female characters are important to what they’ve devised? “All the men in the stories are peripheral, in a way that often women are. So they're husbands, brothers, uncles, there’s that secondary relationship.” Os Leanse, playing Fin, said: “there is a gap between Isobel (played by Emma Corrin) and Fin, she has her own aura. Growing up as a teenager in the fens is a very unique experience. You do, I think, from the stories get a sense of teenagers quite lost in their own heads, existing in a landscape where there is nothing to do. It's very flat, vacant. You have to imagine things.”

Louis added that “there is a lot of material for female characters from the short stories, especially interior stuff, but it also can be very hard to work a character who is very complicated - it takes a lot of work.” Martha Murphy agreed: “Taking a character out of a book, when you don't have much dialogue, is very different process than to having a script where you have a theatrical character in a way”. Louis added that “we have deviated from the story (the stories weren't written for the stage) and so there is plenty of stuff to fill in with our own experiences, directly and indirectly.”

“Rogers went to the ADC with only a short story collection and an idea”

Fen feels risky. A devised piece, Rogers went to the ADC with only a short story collection and an idea. The faith of the programming committee seems to have been well placed, with the technological capabilities of the ADC given to the some of the most creative students in Cambridge. A performance in Cambridge, about the fens, seems particularly exciting