The original feminist mistress of war, performer of miracles and martyr, played by one of theatre’s leading lights, directed by the Donmar’s boundary-breaker Josie Rourke should make for a thrilling evening.
But, despite a luminous performance by Gemma Arterton, Saint Joan is overstretched between modern and medieval. The result is a baggy mash-up of stock market montages flickering into devotional artworks.
Shaw's 1924 play based on the real life and trial of French soldier-turned-saint Joan of Arc is described as a 'tragedy without villains'; the force for evil is instead, human nature. We are greeted with a provocative vignette: an armour-clad Arterton brandishes a sword, mouths silent prayers and a printed screen behind asks ‘Must a Christ perish in every age to save those that have no imagination?’
Then we are thrust into a modern boardroom. An early comic detail in Bernard Shaw’s script where a country Maid miraculously persuades chickens to lay gets a Canary Wharf makeover treatment with be-suited men panicking about plummeting egg shares. This Joan of the Free Market set-up draws a few guffaws from city types.
Arterton appears in this contemporary corporate environment as an anachronistic vision, in a flowing pheasant’s dress. The triptype of screens switch from FTSE and Dow Jones to medieval artwork.
Joan, or The Maid as she’s mostly known, is a woman guided by divine voices, convinced of her purpose and right to become a soldier. Arterton captures the clarity and courage with a deft combination of innocence and power. She has all the magnetism of a miracle-maker and makes sense of the extraordinary ability of a teenage girl from a small village to lead armies and win battles.
But this is a production about the society surrounding Joan of Arc more than the heroine herself. So stage time is dominated by Important Men debating politics, policy, justice and religion with corporate clinicism. It’s didactic, cerebral stuff and the production is rather relentless and laboured in its attempts to chime with contemporary issues. We found ourselves working hard to concentrate and work out exactly what point was being made.
|What||Saint Joan, Donmar Warehouse review|
41 Earlham Street, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9LX | MAP
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
09 Dec 16 – 18 Feb 17, 7:30 PM – 10:00 PM
|Price||£10 - £40|
|Website||Click here to book via the Donmar|