Too often Joan of Arc is depicted as a very quiet, very pure young woman who keeps her gaze firmly on her feet or to the Heavens: not very fun at all. Here, Joan is a gobby Midlands teen (France is bound to have a Midlands) who strikes up conversation with everyone and happily impersonates men: very fun indeed. Lucy J Skilbeck's new writing and directing project tackles the transition Joan undergoes as the divinely assigned leader of an army, putting a new spin on traditional coming of age stories.
her dad is a no-nonsense chap who's been working on his karaoke; the Dauphin Charles VII becomes a sexually voracious Europop sensation
If seating presented intimately in the round doesn't hint at an informal protagonist, then Lucy Jane Parkinson’s portrayal of Joan certainly does. Her confidence isundercut by Joan’s constant expectation to see Saint Catherine in the audience, an unseen and unspoken part whose presence in the room is felt nonetheless. Regardless, it doesn't stop Joan from interacting with the audience at every turn. It primes the audience's involvement in the battle later in the performance; we're Joan's peers, soon to become her army.
The cabaret seating also means that it shouldn't be no surprise that there are no less than four musical numbers in the show. Each corresponding with a persona Joan adopts: her dad is a no-nonsense chap who's been working on his karaoke, the Dauphin Charles VII becomes a sexually voracious Europop sensation and Pierre Cauchon croons about 'what's right and what's wrong / who doesn't belong'. Parkinson, victor of Drag Idol UK 2014, dons each persona effortlessly.
It may confuse some audience members that a piece of theatre should have so many elements of cabaret, but then again this is a show about fluidity. If Joan's refusal to settle into the expectations of femininity were conducted within an entirely rigid theatre genre, it wouldn't have that element that makes Joan spark so much as a performance piece.
Skilbeck's writing can become a little expository at times, as is the nature of relating historical events. However, the climax of the piece really hits out at the injustice behind the oppression of gender fluidity: forced to abandon her armour and threatened with her life, we watch Joan desperately try to fit into the cookie-cutter mould of being a woman. What starts as a comic sequence of audience interaction strips away to reveal Joan left as a shadow of her former self. No longer allowed to be a man, she is reduced once more to ‘little girl’ by the very monarch she crowned. It's supremely powerful, a scene with leaves a lump in your throat. Coupled with the uncertainty of Saint Catherine's unclaimed seat, we see Joan's faith falter: she's left naked and open to the world, whether that's accepted or not.
This is a supreme show, and proof that we should accept the new - especially when it brings with it such fantastic talents as Parkinson and Skilbeck.