St. Joan”, new (& improved) version by SHAW Reply

Review by Danny Gaisin
            The last time this scribe reviewed a SHAW offering of GBS’s iconic ST. JOAN was ten years ago almost to the day. That iteration was under the Festival’s then artistic director Jackie Maxwell herself. Our O.A.R. banner-head read in part “slightly flawed”. The present version under Tim Carroll’s guiding hand is totally different. The modernistic and imaginatively (but simplistic) creative set forces the audience to focus on the characters, dialogue and timeless political machinations that are intrinsic to the playwright’s autobiographical interpretation of the Maid of Orleans. Wiser scholars than yours truly have consistently noticed that both the heroine & GBS were individualists.        Photo by David Cooper

Sara Topham as a charismatic St. JOAN meeting a pseudo Dauphin

While Joan is the nominal persona in the play, and Sara Topham exhibits all the charismatic leadership that must have imbued the original; the dialogues and Machiavellian maneuverings of the British Earl of Warwick and the Rheims Archbishop are what gives the play it’s continual drama and tension.  This is a ‘thinking man’s’ St. Joan and its intensity never diminishes.
There is remarkably strong interpretive credibility by Benedict Campbell (Archbishop) and especially Graeme Somerville’s Bishop of Beauvais readings. But it is Tom McManus whose timing and posture make his Warwick so despised yet credible. He seems drawn out of today’s diplomatic headlines.
There is strong support contributed by Wade Bogert-O’Brien whose Dauphin (Heir to the Thone) and later as Charles VII gives off a whiff of either cowardice or perhaps latent alternative lifestyle. Even Topham’s early referral to him as ‘Charlie’ is a transparent patronizingly-overt condescension. The opening scene conversion of Allan Louis as the squire of a castle by a convinced Jeff Meadows who is in Joan’s thrall, introduces and sets the mood for what is essentially a tragic tale.
Carroll’s effective direction succinctly integrates the audience into a visceral connection with the populace; both common and administrative, during the Lancastrian phase (1415-1453) of the 100 Year’s war. A constant state of conflict; deprivations; a French sort-of 5th column (the Burgundians) and an intrusive Catholic Church hierarchy all contributed to disillusioned and disheartened lives. No wonder a magnetic and appealing young heroine was so enticing, and why a faultlessly staged and acted retelling is so mesmerizing. The scenes where Joan takes possession of her sword; the Richard/Beauvais discussion of her threat, and the inquisitional trial itself are all passionate and critical moments both on stage and for the audience. This is surely an O.A.R. Top Ten contender.

St. Joan is at the Festival Theatre until Oct. 15th.

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