“The Firmament”: the law of women

La présidente du jury (Marie-Armelle Deguy) fait une stupéfiante révélation aux autres matrones.

Posted Sep 30, 2022 3:41 PMUpdated Sep 30, 2022, 3:43 PM

The “Twelve Angry Men” are dressed for the winter. By Lucy Kirkwood who was inspired by the 1950s play to write ‘The Firmament’, a feminist gothic and social fable set in England in 1759, during the passage of Haley’s comet. And by Chloé Dabert, the director of the Comédie de Reims who set about directing it. A challenge, because it involves a large cast: thirteen women and three men (whose roles are for once reduced to the minimum portion); and because the text of the British plays on several registers, by diverting the traditional dramatic codes.

At first glance, it is therefore a suspenseful legal play that the public is invited to discover at 104 Paris. Sally, a young village girl on the run, is accused of having participated with her lover in the savage murder of a child. The man has already been hanged, but the young woman delayed his execution, announcing that she was pregnant. “Plead the Belly” according to the law of the time, is the way to have one’s life saved, to have one’s sentence commuted to exile.

To determine if she is telling the truth, a “jury of matrons” is summoned by the court, housewives interrupted in their daily work. Gathered in a closed room “without meat, without drink, without fire, without candles”, they will have to decide unanimously, without really knowing how to go about it (the pregnancy, invisible, is very recent) under the eye of a mute bailiff, just authorized to receive their verdict.


Nourished by English literature and theatre, the author multiplies surprises and twists. But not just for the sake of the story. All these twists tend to show the difficulty of women taking power, even when they are granted the ephemeral right of life and death. Their first concern is to get it over with quickly: work awaits them. Then, we witness the disputes between the tender hearts, ready to believe the young girl, and the vengeful souls who want at all costs that Sally, whose guilt is not in great doubt, be punished.

Only Lizzy, the midwife, tries to favor reason while outside the men vociferate, crying out for the hanging. Behind the confused deliberations, we discover the frustrations of his wives subjected to their husbands, to the pain of repeated childbirth, to a dull and hopeless life. A diffuse solidarity is created around the rising anger – against the court, against this patriarchal society which crushes them -; but also around their intimate experience, suddenly shared, of the word which is freed, evokes without restraint the desire, the bodies, the moods…

Chloé Dabert perfectly orchestrates this choir of edgy women, avoiding the pitfalls of naturalism. First, she brought together a dream cast, with virtuoso actresses like Bénédicte Cerutti (the midwife) or Marie-Armelle Deguy (the president of the jury) able to provide all the necessary distance. Then, she was able to impose an offbeat tone, a false loose rhythm, which transforms the legal confrontation into a mysterious ballet, out of time.


Once again, she called on her favorite scenographer, Pierre Nouvel, who knew how to create an ambiguous chilling place, a kind of purgatory-prison mixing the whiteness of the sky and the darkness of hell. The two beautiful cinemascope video sequences, one showing the women at work, the other a bucolic walk, constitute two precious interludes. They bring fluidity and breadth to the drama…

In three hours flat (with an intermission), the director makes us hear all about Lucy Kirkwood. A subversive statement summed up by the incandescent character of Sally (Andréa El Azan), a true anarchist comet, ready to do anything to live her passion with the man she loves and to get out of her condition as a slave woman – until committing a crime.

With subtlety, Chloé Dabert raises the tension as the eloquent final scene approaches, where historical drama becomes cosmic tragedy. We will let you discover the uncompromising morality of this explosive feminist fable, which from 104 Paris to the Comédie de Reims, at the TGP and on tour, should be talked about in the coming months.

The Firmament


by Lucy Kirkwood

Directed by Chloé Dabert

104 Paris, www.104.fr

Until October 8

Comedy of Reims from 14 to 20 Oct.

TGP Saint-Denis from 9 to 19 Nov.

Then tour in France (Tarbes, Bayonne, Angers, Chalon-sur-Saône, Caen, Valence, Colmar…)

Duration: 3 hours


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