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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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Theatre Review: The Welkin

The Welkin is a period drama set in a small country village in England in the year 1759. A young  woman has been convicted and sentenced to death for the brutal killing of an infant. She claims to be pregnant, and so a jury of twelve local woman are summoned to determine the veracity of her claim. If she is with child she will be transported to a penal colony, if not, she will be executed. The play depicts the long deliberations, prejudices, and passions of these women and reflects the abysmal way society treated them in this era. 

With a large cast, the play offered a wonderful range of character archetypes, accents and personalities. 

Kierron Diaz-Campbell played the child killer Sally Poppy as an unlikeable anti-hero full of rage and an almost demonic hatred of society that was quite compelling to watch. Yet as odious as the character appeared at times, there was one scene in which Sally describes her first encounter with love. Diaz-Campbell delivered this in a beautiful and incredibly moving monologue that was one of the play’s highlights. 

There were a couple of other monologue moments which were equally compelling. Gaby Reid provided a harrowing and moving moment as her character Sarah Hollis described encountering the devil while giving birth to a baby boy in a nearby forest.  

In another moment, Shivaun Statham as midwife Elizabeth Luke angrily condemns the lack of compassion among her fellow jurists and society at large for the way women are treated. It was an extraordinary moment and a clarion call for compassion and understanding. Statham was the anchor of this play, and her careful control of her character and her spot on delivery of lines was masterful. 

The Welkin was a clever, emotional and at times witty exploration of injustice and the cruel, almost sadistic way society then and now deals with the rights of women and their sexuality. This production was well staged, and had some very memorable moments and performances. The story excoriates superstition and quackery really well, and also illustrates how paternalism and sexism can be assimilated into women’s thinking and make them treat other women badly. The story itself is not predictable and has some quite shocking developments that work really well.

My main criticism would centre on the denseness of dialogue over actual action which at times made me restless. The other issue concerns the way many lines were delivered by some in the cast. 

What I mean is that in theatre production attention must be paid to projection and enunciation when actors say their lines. Even when characters are ‘whispering’ on stage to a fellow character, the audience, even those in the back row, need to hear that whisper. We understand the conceit that no one else on stage will ‘hear’ it. There were moments in The Welkin where I missed hearing lines because of a lack of projection or because lines were mumbled or rushed, this was particularly true when some of the cast were at the back of the stage or when there was rapid-fire dialogue between characters. 

That being said, The Welkin is a powerful drama and explores themes that are perhaps in many parts of the world as relevant today as then. 

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