St Joan review: Shaw adaptation is an Arc of triumph

Jimmy Fay’s contemporary take on George Bernard Shaw's play finds new meaning in the post-Brexit political landscape

St Joan ★★★★
Lyric Theatre, Belfast

We live in a world of religious fanaticism, internecine wars, kangaroo courts, executions and show trials. And thus was the political landscape of 15th-century France, where the short life of a devout country girl encapsulated the whole sorry picture.

A year before the outbreak of the first World War, George Bernard Shaw’s attention was drawn to the iconic figure of Joan of Arc.

Ten years later, he had written a magnificent play about her. By then, that war, the Rising, the Civil War and the War of Independence were in the past and Nazi atrocities but a cloud on the distant horizon.

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Jimmy Fay’s impassioned production compresses the centuries, powerfully bookending Shaw’s dialogue between the divinely inspired world of Joan and the reactionary might of church and state, which were collectively out to get her.

Revolution simmers from the moment Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s androgynous street urchin strides into the office of Alan McKee’s pompous Robert, demanding the military resources to lift the Siege of Orléans and crown Kevin Trainor’s mincing Dauphin king of France.

It takes grounded female sensibility, quietly conveyed by Abigail McGibbon, to frame and acknowledge Joan’s true worth. Derided as a fool’s errand, realisation slowly dawns among clerics and apparatchiks that this crazed girl’s crusade might just deliver their ultimate goal.

At first, references to medieval France and its intricate politics chime discordantly within Grace Smart’s faceless modern setting, but soon all manner of contemporary parallels find resonance, not least escalating English/French tensions in the eye of the Brexit storm.

In the clinical surroundings of the office-turned-courtroom, unease and dislike fulminate amid the ringing persuasiveness of Joan’s inner saintly voices and the case for execution made by the patriarchal representatives of the body politic.

Meanwhile, Hogg transforms into a luminously hypnotic figure, casting bright light into a grey, unimaginative world ruled by grey, unimaginative men.

– Until October 8th lyrictheatre.co.uk