I spent two days intermittently cold while one old boiler was replaced by another newer version. The gas fitter was local – from somewhere close to the Norfolk-Suffolk border. His accent was locally sourced too and easy on the ear.
In the Welkin, a new play by Lucy Kirkwood (she wrote Chimerica which I enjoyed) the setting is rural Norfolk towards the back end of the eighteenth century when Haley’s comet is due to make one of its recurring cameos. All the actors need appropriate accents but, while never plumbing the depths of Daniel Craig’s southern gentleman in Knives Out the range is pretty wide from nailed on local to a sort of Everyman-rural.
Now okay I’m not from Norfolk but I married into the county – I know; don’t judge me – so I have some sense of what it should sound like. I also think that professional actors, especially those plucked to perform at the National should make a better fist of it.
Does it matter? No, probably not. If we can embrace colour blind casting in David Copperfield (don’t get me on that particular example of wokish hypocrisy; when I review that film soon I may share my penny’s worth) then why not accent-deaf here. But it is distracting. Very. Like waiting for the other boot to drop.
Still, I move on, that grumble done. The conceit of the play is simple. Twelve matrons are pressed into a form of Jury service in which they must decide if a young woman, already found guilty of a terrible murder (by men, natch) of a young girl is herself pregnant. If not she hangs; if she is, she’s off for a package holiday to the land o’er the sea, aka transportation.
The twelve are a right bunch of characters and rather nicely they are all flawed in their own ways. Their introduction – one of several neat design tricks is done well – after all trying to have an audience keep twelve (thirteen with the guilty woman) characters clear isn’t easy. The self describing is done briefly and with humour which helps.
The young woman isn’t exactly likeable; she’s far from repentant for her part in the killing and she doesn’t want help, at least so it seems. So those minded to vote for her aren’t welcomed. Class and superstition plays a part but the overriding feeling is that people vote with their already set prejudices – so no different to today.
There are twists and turns as the debate continues and a neat trick at the end of the first act, that helps give the play a shove. The machinery of the play isn’t bad: some of it is well oiled and some as clunky as an abraded big end. It’s like twelve angry men does Salem with more petticoats and a lot of swearing.
I found it quite engaging, and even the occasional clunky allusion to a woman’s lot today e.g, look how little things have changed, esp when it comes to control over their bodies, didn’t put me off (even if it strikes me as a trifle simplistic to suggest there are comparable situations, at least in the UK (I know, I’m a bloke what would I know…)). I was also quite open to believe this may indeed have been how such trials were undertaken and that the prejudices and experiences may, largely be well described. In fact I was almost sure I was enjoying it…
Then they all started to sing. I think you probably know by now that I consider the musical, be it a seven hour opera to a thirty minute stitching together of some pop group’s greatest to be the singularly most pointless waste of either stage space or celluloid since Piers Morgan persuaded someone he had more than a face for newspapers. I can just about accept people do sing in context, like the shower, or at a karaoke. Maybe even here they might have found solace in song.
But Kate Bush? In the eighteenth century? I’m sorry, What. The. Fuck? After I realised what is was I spent the next few minutes wondering if Kate Bush had done a version of an 18th century folk song. I looked up later. Nope, not so far as I could find. Why, Lucy? Or the director if it was his idea. It just distracted me. What did it add? Is it something clever an allegorical, a metaphor or some such because I’m usually intrigued by those.
Sigh. Smart arsery at its worse is all I can conclude.
A bit like the title. Go on, who knows what the Welkin is? I can’t say for sure that the word wasn’t used in the play – unlike aeroplane, used twice (yep, that makes sense) – but if it was I missed it. It means the sky, the canopy of the firmament or something. Quite an obscure word. I assumed before the play it might be some sort of turnip planting tool or a trainee pickpocket. There is a reference to the sky (in a metaphorically allegorical way, sort of – you’ll need to go so you can spoil your own plot) but it’s a small part and I’m not sure why she called it this. Again, I think I’m probably not clever enough.
It’s fine. It’s probably making some neat links between then and now, men and women, science and superstition, open minds and pre-judgery prejudices. No, it is. It’s got depth and several witty sections. I didn’t fall asleep so that was a plus.
But for all that’s rational and reasonable, why can’t you put on something that doesn’t have built into its very fabric these minor irritations that are rumbling distractions, like over zealous wasps at a picnic?