As an adolescent I used to spend a lot of time in our garden shed. I cleared it out of all its tools, much to my dad’s dismay (he’s a gardener so it really wasn’t helpful). I then proceeded to decorate it with all sorts of statements about the world. ‘Life is a Flower’ coated the walls in an electric blue when I was particularly keen on Ace of Base, and ‘Get Rich or Die Tryin’ replaced it in a marijuana green (not that I smoked it) when 50 Cent was tickling my ear.
It was my urban escape. A chance to get away from my family, and smoke cigarettes. I was cringingly philosophical as a teenager- hours were spent lying on the shed roof, trying to decipher a star through the Shepherd’s Bush smog and writing poems. I was in love, pregnant or Peter Vardy (a philosopher/theologian I was obsessed with) – in my mind, of course.
Many of my teenage years were spent with that shed. Occasionally friends would join, but on the whole, it was just us.
So I was delighted to find, years on, that a new shed had popped up, offering further escapism. The Shed is a temporary addition to the National Theatre, which aims to explore the ambitious and unexpected. My sister had heard rave reviews of one of its shows Ours was the Fen Country, so off we went. Unsurprisingly, it’s about the Fens. Norfolk – my favourite county (childhood again – Norfolk and shed = more of a combo than a Happy Meal)
Ours was the Fen Country looks at the disappearing life of farmers, fishers and eel trappers. The piece is verbatim dance-theatre (look it up – I had to) The constant thumping of the feet of performers echoes the repetition of interview recordings with the Fens. One statement pounded through the room repeatedly ‘I really think nature is going to win. I hope it does’ The words stayed with me well after I’d evacuated the shed…
The performers portray the irrepressible force of nature through their movements. They are taken over by an animal state which they can’t seem to repress. They twitch and shake reminding us of the eels and fish they catch. The fens talk of their webbed feet and their life plans: to continue what their parents did, who do what their parents did. The modern world attacks them but they are empowered by their history and sense of purpose.
The play beautifully conveys the extraordinary relationship the fens have formed with nature. The choreography is so powerful, I found myself struggling to believe there will ever be an end to the fens. They’ll live on in nature regardless of whether their livelihood is nicked from under their eyes.
Next on at The Shed was Nut by Debbie Tucker Green. Her playwright name doesn’t include any capitals – pretentious or kinda cool? Can’t decide. A recurring conflict for me – pretentious vs. cool.
Nut is an exceptional piece. Set in a council house, the stage has a metal sculpture thing hanging over it which gives an industrial, urban feel. Nut focuses on Elayne – a depressive recluse. The play is comprised of three scenes. In the first, Elayne hilariously discusses her funeral plans with a friend, Aimee. However, there is a dark edge to the wit and the scene ends in Aimee encouraging Elayne to self harm with cigarettes. I was left wondering whether Aimee exists or if she is a creation of Elayne’s fragmented mind. And what of the small child who sings throughout the scene? Perhaps her dead child? And the young man who criticises her inability to get a door bell or leave the house – another voice in her head?
The following scene involves a woman arguing with her ex-husband over custodial rights. The destruction of their relationship lingers in their cigarette smoke. It is only in the following, and final scene that we see the connection between these scenes/characters. The Ex-wife is Elayne’s sister, who is concerned that it ‘might be happening again’ – Elayne’s mental breakdown.
Nut deals with extremely raw issues. You are dragged through a world of pain, but the ride is cushioned by green’s poetic writing. It is Beautifully Bleak and these ‘Bs’ make lower case green’s play unforgettable.
On both occasions I left the National’s shed feeling all philosophical. It would’ve been the perfect time to get back in my shed, but since we fled the nest, my mum has turned our house into an Air B&B, and I just can’t tell who’ll be camping in it.