Where: The Boys School Smock Alley Theatre, Exchange Street Lower, Dublin 8
Runs until August 11th
Whatever your religious persuasion or beliefs, there are few people who aren’t familiar with the tale of Joan of Arc, the 15th century French religious martyr who was burned at the stake by the English at just 19 years of age. This year marks the 600th anniversary of her death and with that in mind Fast Intent Theatre company bring to life this poignant piece, which was first performed in French in 1952.
With a cast of just seven playing dozens of characters, this tells the story of Joan’s life from her strict childhood and her visions from “God” encouraging her to help restore the French Monarchy, to her taking up arms to fight the English and her fiasco of a trial and her inevitable death.
Written by Jean Anouilh, he himself admitted that the play is not an exact blow-by-blow account of Joan’s life but rather a poetic retelling of it and indeed there are some moments that are invented for dramatic effect and others that are exaggerated. However at its heart it remains true to the essence of the story of the innocent peasant girl who became a legend.
This stripped-back version doesn’t rely on lavish sets or costumes and rather lets the beautifully written story speak for itself through some powerful performances. Catriona Ennis is fantastic as Joan, with her conviction in her beliefs unwavering throughout and all the cast do a great job as they switch rapidly between characters (harder to do than it looks).
The ending is slightly disjointed as there is a moment that feels like an organic ending a few minutes before the actual conclusion and yet the play continues. Also the scenes where Joan is imprisoned lose some of the energy that has been built over the previous couple of hours and there is also one particularly haphazard scene of a beating that could have been blocked better as it ruins the illusion for the audience, but on the whole these are minor complaints. This is a truly engaging production that really draws the audience in – thanks in no small part to their close proximity to the action. The Boy’s School space is used incredibly well, with every inch being utilised to its fullest.
Although this is two hours long (with an interval) it never drags and despite the heavy subject matter the time goes by surprisingly quickly. Joan’s story is still surprisingly relevant to a modern audience and it is impossible not to be touched by it’s poignancy in parts. Modern science may claim that Joan had a particular type of brain tumour which caused her “visions”, but it is best not to think about this for the duration and instead admire the tenacity and conviction of a young girl whose single-mindedness made her a force to reckoned with in an era when women were considered lower than animals.