Director: Josie Rourke
Writer: George Bernard Shaw
Starring: Gemma Arterton, Fisayo Akinade, Matt Bardock, Niall Buggy, Richard Cant, Hadley Fraser, Arthur Hughes, Rory Keenan, Elliot Levey, Syrus Lowe
Seen on: 16.2.2017
Teenaged peasant Joan of Arc (Gemma Arterton) knows that she has a mission to fulfill – voices tell her that she is the one to end the siege of Orléans and to crown the Dauphin (Fisayo Akinade) as King. All she needs is a few men from Robert de Baudricort (Matt Bardock). Baudricort doesn’t really believe her but his Steward (Rory Keenan) does. And faced with Joan’s conviction, Baudricort allows himself to be convinced. So Joan rides off to make her destiny. But not all are taken with Joan’s mission, despite – or maybe because – her success.
Saint Joan is an interesting production in its mixing of period elements with contemporary ones. I also liked this take on Joan, with Arterton shining as always. Nevertheless it falls a little shy of a really great production.
That I’m a huge Arterton fan is no secret and she really does a great job with this rendition of Joan: she’s full of (religious) conviction and she is absolutely sure of herself and her mission. But she’s also calculating and knows how to apply the right mix of pressure, arguments and flattery to get what she wants. She doesn’t just rely on her divine rights to get what she wants. And sometimes her behavior is outright flirty. Thus, Arterton and Rourke managed to create a Joan who feels fresh and more well-rounded than most other images of Joan that come to mind. (I don’t know Shaw’s play, so I don’t know how much that take was already there in his text.)
The rest of the cast wasn’t bad either, especially Akinade was really great as the Dauphin, but they all take a backseat to Arterton’s Joan. Which is why it was a little frustrating when the play turns its focus away from Joan and to the men around her. I simply wasn’t all that interested in their (inner) struggles.
Joan is probably one of (European) history’s most famous women and Rourke hones in on her extraordinary status by having Joan be the only one in period costume in an otherwise absolutely modern setting. She doesn’t belong in the world of suits and stock markets (nicely set in scene with a bit of humor), but that’s where she finds herself – among only men. And it seems obvious that she can’t be allowed to actually stay there.
I can’t say what kept me from really getting into the play, but I thought it had some lengths and something seemed to be missing, though I don’t know what. Maybe I just caught it in the wrong mood. Be that as it may, it is certainly a play worth seeing.