Review: The Welkin
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
As 18th century Suffolk awaits Halley’s comet, twelve women hold the fate of Sally Poppy in their hands. Sentenced to hang for a heinous murder, Sally claims to be pregnant. A jury of twelve matrons are taken from their housework to determine whether she is truthful or trying to escape her fate. The Welkin nods to Twelve Angry Men with a provocative feminist twist; a courtroom drama, energetic in its daring expression of female experience.
Despite the sonorous reminders of a baying mob off-stage, evoking the play’s 1759 setting, The Welkin reflects and confronts ever-present issues concerning the perception of the female body, its agency, and societal position. Director Florence Carr-Jones delivers a brilliant vision, melding the historical and the contemporary to underline the pervasiveness of these issues.
Throughout The Welkin, the tech team continually astonishes, incorporating modern elements which are imperative for the aforementioned blending of the historical and the contemporary. The matrons are filmed on a webcam off-stage and projected on the wall as the judge swears them in. Though this adds a comical lightness, with subtle nods to reality TV, these insertions of modernity continually remind us of the relevance of the subject matter presented.
While the play's technical innovations bring a modern flair to its historical setting, the heart of The Welkin lies in the compelling performances of the wonderful cast and their impressive portrayal of women from all walks of life. Though it was slightly overwhelming to introduce twelve characters in close succession, each of the matrons makes her distinct voice known, embodying facets of womanhood that vary not only in attitude but also age and social standing. This was aided by Claudia Alibrando’s costumes, which deserve their own recognition; they created a pleasing cohesiveness that masterfully reflects the standing of each character.
As the matrons bicker and quarrel, we see how this is truly an ensemble piece, the energy these actors exchange with one another becomes the driving force of the performance. Having fourteen actors on stage for the grand majority of the play is quite a feat; Carr-Jones’ direction is astute, utilising space as best as possible, giving the story visual dimension and each character visibility.
Greta Abbey is fascinating as Sally Poppy, constantly resisting victimhood and going against those sympathetic to her. Lucy Melrose brings Elizabeth Luke to life, ever complex and continually protective, a leading presence amongst the women. Notable performances from Scarlet-Rose McCaffrey as a defiant Emma Jenkins, and the highly amusing duo of Izzy Pleasance and Lucie Ailsa as Hannah Rusted and Kitty Givens bring a refreshing and whimsical touch. But truly, the play would be incomplete without any of the matrons, each performance captivating and intricate.
In such a female-centric play, male bodies are largely absent, and when they are present, they are predominantly silenced, which is remarkable in itself. In The Welkin, women are agents of justice, though as the play progresses, they also inevitably become liable for upholding the patriarchal system that condemns women through words and decisions made by men.
Overall, The Welkin is dark, fierce, and bitingly funny. Bold and unabashed in its multitudinous expression of womanhood, it shines a necessary light on the taxing interrogation of truth and power over the female body that continues today. It feels like a full-circle moment to have a play by Lucy Kirkwood, an ex-bedlamite, be performed at Bedlam Theatre; a testament to how the Gothic church continues to cultivate impressive student theatre. The entire cast and production crew deserve massive congratulations, their hard work and dedication is truly impressive!