For all the fun this Fete undoubtedly offers, the day in the sun leaves the feeling of loneliness in the air as Farmer Joe has lost his wife. Joe makes strides to boot out a much needed 11.5 million pound investment deal from developers in order to mourn her passing in situ. The soft apple jelly colours of Chris Withers’ lighting design shows this pastoral life as a muddled idyll crammed with traditions such as the bunting strewn on stage of Fly Davis’ set. The nostalgia for the country is compelling and the message is to hold on tight to whatever makes you happy, as extolled when young Colin shows us his ferret. [Pardon? -Ed.]
However a Tesco life is the alternative this fictional Suffolk village of Upham may need to embrace to survive. Even Tesco has its own leaflet display in the field but it seems the only man truly tempted by the retail giant is Joe’s son Julian, who is bursting to come out and embrace 24 hour consumerism. Each stall fills the stage with its own story of dreams that can be fulfilled only by rural life. The lady Vicar operates the stall for the god squad with a barely hidden lust for taking ripe young men on nature rambles. The migrant Bulgarians busk a folk song to earn sympathy for their minimum wage earnings, griping at the Poles for getting all the public attention. Playing the role of villager at the Fete is the audience and a lovely collage of laughter from all ages ripples at different moments as we recognise parts of ourselves in the proceedings. We are all emotionally moved by Farmer Joe’s guitar solo to his dead wife and physically moved by the finale when Julian shows just how much love he’s got to give the world now he has come out.
The incredibly versatile ensemble consists of Katie Brayben, Graham Lappin and Gabriel Vick who embody the roles, sing the songs and play the on stage instruments. The out of town characters such as trustafarians Ollie and Jemima of Clapham Farm, developed in the actors by Anthea Williams’ gift for naturalistic direction, are literally a hoot. The language used by these fleshed out characters is descriptively rich, creating a world beyond the trestle tables ‘sure as garlic grows well near spuds’. As the sun sets on the village green, depicted by a show that Williams has shaped beautifully, the last word goes to Pearl for, ‘Jam is the glue that holds the WI together’.