23 March 2024
One segment of Lucy Kirkwood’s career in theatre includes her residency at Clean Break, an English theatre company that has been working with women in prison since 1979 with the aim to raise issues of female criminality in relation to the justice system. By way of its various programmes, the company explores the intersections between the spaces of theatre and the institution of prison, thus giving voice to women who, in various theatrical representations, speak about life in prison – in relation to society, life and legal system. The theatre company makes it very clear: the attitude of the state judicial system towards women is one of the major proofs that we still live in an unequal society in which women are judged according to different standards.
The Welkin is set in 1759 in a small village in Suffolk where a jury of twelve matrons must decide on the life and death of Sally Poppy, a young woman accused of murdering an eleven-year-old child with the help of her lover. The all-female jury must decide by a democratic vote on the truth of Sally’s alleged pregnancy, which could save her from the death sentence by hanging.
One way to look at The Welkin is to observe it as an all-female sequel to a famous Hollywood film Twelve Angry Men, in which jurors are confronted with their own morals and values. In Kirkwood’s play these values are distinctly characterized by newly fashioned feminist parameters. The morals and values of the matrons are defined by their class position and articulated brutally in terms of their physicality: how many children they have given birth to, how many miscarriages and abortions they have had, what they do for a living, and what their attitude to sexuality is (the morality being constantly soaked by body fluids – urine, milk and blood). The perspective is further honed at the point when the text is incised by »devil dreams« and augmented by Christian fascination with witchcraft. Our gaze is constantly being diverted from female corporality due to the prospects of a celestial phenomenon about to sweep across the scene: a comet that comes perilously close to the Earth every 74 to 79 years.