Tuesday, February 8, 2011

St Joan: Burn, baby Burn

An old theatre review of mine I came across from 2007. A clue about the play I want to write:

So a week ago I went to check out this production of GB Shaw's famous 1923 play. I had an ulterior motive - I played Joan in a community production in Corning, New York in the early 1980's and I wanted to see how my perceptions had matured and sharpened over time.

Back then, young and naive, I thought every scene without me - Joan - was boring. Now, at age 40, having experienced childbirth, madness and true love, I . . . I still think that every scene without Joan is boring. The trial scene kicks ass, but overall it's not the greatest play.

It's a great production - the best part being Anne Marie Duff, who plays Joan with an Irish accent and a fiery spirit. (Sorry. Whoops.) The Dauphin was the very comic embodiment of the word fopp. Yay for gay! He was funny.

The opening and the battle were heavily choreographed by some upstart and the result was kind of strange. The Siege of Orleans comes off as a kind of Stomp routine - lots of rhythmic banging of chairs. It gently lulled my companion to sleep which I am pretty sure was not the desired effect.

The best part- the part that makes it worth sitting through the preceding three hours - is the trial scene and burning of Joan. In the words of Paris Hilton, that was hot. No, seriously - she is so terrified of being burned alive. I felt it way up in the £10 seats and that's some good acting. The unfolding of the trial is marvelously set up in the preceding three hours so that every line by Joan's accusers is powerful.

I read some other reviews of the show, notably West End Whingers (who I love) which commented on the relevance of the play to life now. Repression of people who represent a threat to the status quo, the cruel perpetuation of power at the heart of every institution, virulent hatred of the English (I'm kidding!!) (not really) (no, really).

And yes, the play is relevant to our life now for those reasons. So much so that a week later I'm wondering why the National bothered to revive it. Oh, look, someone sincere and brave is being crushed by an unresponsive power structure. Shocker! A woman is being told to question the evidence of her own senses and is written off as insane because her views are inconveniently insurgent in nature. Quel suprise! Religion perpetrates a grave misjustice. Color me flabbergasted! BORING!

I know this maybe isn't the place for it, but man, I'll tell you what I want to see: I want to see the play where Joan doesn't get burned. I want to see the play where people listen to her. I want to see the play where compassion triumphs over the exigencies of the sovereign. I want to see the play that takes on the social constructs of madness, rebellion, law and order and sees what happens when they are turned inside out.

That's the kind of play they should be putting on at the National. That's the kind of play we need to see now - not another affectionate rehashing of how very very bad the social order is and how crazy women who stand up for themselves always die but a imagining of what else the world could be.

Look at what is at the National now - Enchantment, Emperor Jones, Rafta Rafta - apologist potrayals of the inflexibility of social structure and the impossibility of change.

Ah, you say the work of the playwright is to hold a mirror up, not to point the way forward. Well, I don't know. Vaclav Havel might disagree. I certainly do. Color me Pat Benatar. All fired up.

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