St Joan review at Lyric Theatre, Belfast – ‘a play for all times’
In a country where, for well over a century, the separation of church and state has been zealously observed, it is easy to forget that they were once inextricably joined. In George Bernard Shaw’s St. Joan, medieval French bureaucracy and religion are seen to contrive hand in glove. The play premiered around the time of Joan’s canonisation and in the aftermath of the First World War, the Easter Rising, the Irish Civil War and the war of independence in Ireland.
Jimmy Fay’s intense, layered production resounds with echoes of the past while pragmatic talk of punishment by burning prefaces Nazi horrors lying ahead. Shaw’s uncompromising dramatisation of the martyrdom of Joan of Arc is a play for all times.
Arguments swirl repeatedly around the collective responses of establishment forces to the unswerving devotion of a peasant girl intent on following the commands of a higher spiritual power. Grace Smart’s setting is a clinical office space, offering scant visual stimulation while providing a suitably anonymous milieu for the show trial of Act II.
Against Conor Mitchell’s softly plangent score, a double-edged dialogue unfolds. Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s Joan can be found on the mean streets of any city, a gaunt, spaced-out rebel, whose divinely inspired challenge to the might of the patriarchal system renders her fate a political necessity. Philip O’Sullivan is wonderfully versatile as sleek, besuited archbishop and folksy Inquisitor. Tony Flynn’s Warwick is the archetypal, unemotional bureaucrat, while Abigail McGibbon’s female Ladvenu brings genuine remorse to the witnessing of an act of expediency too terrible to describe.
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