Saint Joan

Saint Joan
By George Bernard Shaw. Sydney Theatre Company. Roslyn Packer Theatre. June 5 – 30, 2018

Director Imara Savage (with young writer Emme Hoy) has boldly condensed George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 epic to half its length, and added a handful of evocative monologues giving greater voice to Joan herself.   

With pale Sarah Snook centre-stage, surrounded by eight male and black-robed judges, priests or princes,  this country girl is doomed from the start. 

Joan, though, is not some newly relevant voice of feminist leadership, as some have suggested since Shaw and again in these MeToo times.  But this gripping production makes vivid why a power elite, secular and religious, thinks it must crush any individual who speaks – and acts – as though with a direct line to God.  Cross dresser she may have been, but Joan today would more likely be dismissed as a popularist, a religious fanatic.

Yet the march to her inevitable doom makes this dialectical play, here, also very moving.

Snook is perfect as the naïve, even gauche teenager, unwavering in her convictions.

John Gaden, William Zappa, David Whitney and others give commanding voice to conflicting heresy arguments of Church, King and State, while Sean O’Shea delights as the English imperial bully fixed on burning the whore (Shaw was Irish!).

David Fleischer’s towering wall of pleated cloth entombs an almost naked stage, which the actors never leave but move across like black chess-pieces.  Max Lyandvert’s bell and long notes adds yet more tension to this compelling production.

Martin Portus

image: Sarah Snook. Photographer Rene Vaile. 

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