“There’s something about Joan.”
Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s Joan of Arc is a mesmerising figure. She is steered by the voices of saints, yet cuts a contemporary figure as the apparent madwoman strides about the stage in increasingly androgynous clothes (that always bear a small cross) and casts her spell on all she speaks to. She foresees and empowers changes in the court, military victory and yet is an anti-establishment figure who turns the world upside down and the sorceress ultimately must be stopped.
Bernard Shaw’s text has been adapted by Philip O’Sullivan (who also magnificently plays the Inquisitor in the heresy trial scenes). Characters are gently introduced in small blocks over long scenes that are a welcome change from some modern fast-switching theatre. Most of the cast double up on roles. Abigail McGibbon is particularly provocative as she plays roles that would have been male in the original. And this is where the play steals its contemporary edge, portraying a female military leader and priestess who still wouldn’t exist in their respective 2016 organisations. [Breaking news: the British Army appointed its first female Major General in 2015.]
Snatches of dialogue seem very relevant in a post-EU referendum world, little Englanders and obsession with border security. Written in the wake of the Easter Rising, Shaw’s critique of the collusion of temporal powers and faith institutions seems quite contemporary in Northern Ireland as moral issues are fought over in court and across the island as corporate battles replace military conflicts.
St. Joan runs at the Lyric Theatre until 8 October and is well worth seeing at least once and possible twice to properly wring out its brilliance.