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Joan, Again

Photo by Katy Green Loughrey

subtlenuance in association with Sydney Independent Theatre Company presents JOAN, AGAIN at the Old Fitzroy Theatre, Woolloomooloo. 5 – 23 August.

JOAN, AGAIN is a new Australian work by Paul Gilchrist.

Joan of Arc, a village girl from the Vosges, was born about 1412; she convinced the French hierarchy, at the age of 16, to permit her to lead an army against the English invaders; she defeated the English at Orleans; she arranged the crowning of King Charles the Seventh, in the Cathedral at Rheims, heralding (in hindsight) the uniting of the French as a Nation; she was, subsequently, captured and imprisoned by the English, and was duly prosecuted for heresy, witchcraft and sorcery, at Rouen in 1431, and burnt at the stake. She was only 19 years old at her death and famous throughout Western Europe! Burnt says G.B. Shaw “.. essentially for what we call unwomanly and insufferable presumption … there were only two opinions about her. One was that she was miraculous: the other that she was unbearable.”

The writer of JOAN, AGAIN, Paul Gilchrist, tells us that in the twenty years following the death of Joan, “… there were at least four impostors who claimed to be her.” This play is a fictional invention about a young woman who claims to be Joan. The effect that this Joan has on the lives of the people of a small village, highlighting their weaknesses, prejudices and need to believe, to bear their lives, is the principal action of the play, and suggests that the reputation of the real Joan makes unbearability of her reappearance, rather than her being miraculous, a saint, the more likely option of opinion.

Mr Gilchrist has written a play for nine actors and all of the roles have some generosity of opportunity to want to play – he writes for actors – and have a variety of contrasting recognisable type. The play has  some wit and beginnings of intriguing argument. Indeed, it has some potential, and kept my attention with the awakening in me of a slight pleasure of remembrance of the well made play of a little time past, say a Rattigan, Anouilh or Harwood. However, Mr Gilchrist needs a tougher dramaturgical guide, as the writing often gets distracted from its core ideas to indulge character, comedy and the writer’s poetic penchant. If the writing were to have a stronger edit to issue and argument, a keener shaping of character development and consequence, the play could have a possibility of a further life.

This subtlenuance production directed by the writer, however, requires, a tougher third eye, and certainly a more experienced cast. The acting is very varied in skill. Too many of the company merely recite the text as a kind of generalised memory demonstration, with no three dimensional creation of a back story or life force – so, the weaknesses in the dramaturgy of the writing is more nakedly revealed. The production is crippled by these weakest links no matter the effort by the more experienced performers.

Interesting but not compelling.