Fair Field Is A Modern Epic For A Modern World

Fair Field at Ledbury Poetry Festival – photographs by Graeme Braidwood

ehearsals are finished, the set and costume are coming together, the medieval instruments are tuned, and the modern day epic which is Fair Field is beginning to take shape.

This week I went to the Chisenhale Dance Space in East London to witness the last rehearsals, and see the results of this ambitious performance project. There are many different strands to Fair Field, and this multi-dimensionality is what makes it a modern epic.

There is not just one writer working on the project, it is a collection of artists and writers each responding to the original text and devising a segment of the performance. Breach Theatre have been commissioned to devise a piece of theatre in response to Piers Plowman, Nick Field and Francesca Millican-Slater will be bringing the seven deadly sins to life, Annette Brook has written a contemporary adaption of the marriage of Lady Meade, and Tom Chivers has written his own re-imagining of the prologue and the Tower of Truth. Alongside live music, radio broadcasts from Ross Sutherland, and direction from Russell Bender, this is a performance in which many different artistic voices combine and collide to create a truly interdisciplinary performance.

As if this cocktail of disciplines was not enough to engage audiences, Fair Field is also a site responsive performance – a form guaranteed to keep the audience on their toes. In the 14th Century, an epic poem written in alliterative verse with personified sins and virtues would have been enough to break the mould of traditional poetry at the time. Piers Plowman is noted for being a poem ahead of its time, which makes it ground-breaking and so the modern adaptation of the poem should be equally revolutionary.

Issues such as capitalism, work, unemployment, exploitation, poverty, homelessness, benefit cuts, and social inequality reappear throughout the performance

Nowadays it takes a little more than alliterative verse to create a monumental epic which is perhaps why Penned in the Margins, with the help of a group of talented artists, have devised a multimedia site-responsive performance project, combining poetry, innovative script writing, physical performers, sound, film and live music. This is the contemporary answer to an epic poem. To be truly epic now means more than writing a long poem, artists have to think outside of the box.

During my time as poet in residence, I have been observing the rehearsal process which has given me the privilege of taking a step back to contemplate the themes within a wider social context. Fair Field addresses issues which are at the forefront of contemporary society’s mind, with confidence and sensitivity. Issues such as capitalism, work, unemployment, exploitation, poverty, homelessness, benefit cuts, and social inequality reappear throughout the performance. Addressing relevant social issues is what I think makes this re-imagining of a medieval classic truly epic, because it is this aspect of the performance which will leave a mark in the audience’s minds, just as Langland did to his readers.


Sophie Fenella is Poet in Residence for Fair Field in a collaboration between Penned in the Margins and The Poetry School. Read more of Sophie’s prose and poetry responses to Fair Field on our blog.