There are moments of brilliance in this one-person-variety-show, but
An interesting idea executed with heart
Joan reimagines the story of Joan d’Arc, famous 15th century peasant girl who claimed to have visions of Saint Catherine, and who defied gender norms by leading the French army. The story is only partially modernised, a decision which allows us to keep an open mind about the ways in which these issues affect our own times. The magnetic Lucy Jane Parkinson performs Lucy J Skilbeck’s original script which mixes multiple styles. At times, it feels we are in a cabaret bar, watching karaoke in drag. Yet at the drop of a hat, quite literally, we are in a monologue drama piece, or, with another alarming switch, witnessing an audience interaction straight from a comedy show. This one-hander-variety-show contains much within it, but unfortunately the pieces didn't always fit together in a complementary way.
For the most part, the script is a piecing together of conversational and poetic lines, and there are moments of real lyricism. Joan’s description of her first vision of Saint Catherine is powerful yet gentle at the same time, carefully evoking the intense calm which she is describing: “like if sunset had a sound”. Similarly, Joan witnessing her village under attack is skilfully written and performed, understated without removing the raw horror of the sight. However, it can feel rather basic at times. There is too much repetition, particularly of key words – aiming at dramatic effect, this actually removes the power from those words. The end of the hour, for example, is a difficult moment to capture, but her death throes are sadly bathetic rather than sympathetic.
Interspersed within the narrative there are songs, where Parkinson performs in drag. These male characters include Joan’s father, the Dauphin, and a judge who tries her in court. Parkinson’s experience as a drag king shine through, and these are sung with energetic delight. She appears to have the most fun as the saucy and camp Dauphin, donning a gold sequinned jacket, gold sequinned cap, and thrusting away to Sheboy. Some are less successful – the first song as Joan's father appears to have music at a different pace to the one which Parkinson wants to follow, meaning her emphatic choreographed actions feel clunky.
Joan is an interesting idea executed with heart, and the sincere appreciation from the audience at the end shows the need for more shows like this – tackling gender issues in diverse ways, combining the playful and the tragic. Joan is a welcome and lovely addition to this conversation. With time, editing, and development it could become truly great.