Inspired by The Faction’s The Talented Mr Ripley, also playing as part of its 2015 season, I was drawn to the company’s next show Joan of Arc. Mark Leipacher’s adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play, co-directed with Rachel Valentine-Smith, is another strong piece that I urge you to see.
Joan of Arc isn’t an easy play. A highly fictionalised version of the French heroine, who fought the English in the Hundred Years’ War, the production embraces the different opinions of a peasant girl who comes to lead armies. A fascinating figure, who is by turn inspirational and loathed, Joan never questions her mission from God and is no fraud – a fact that doesn’t make her easy to portray or relate to.
The direction is bold. A minimal stage is enlivened by Chris Withers’ lighting design, while the ensemble create tableaux, using their bodies to stand in for trees or thrones, for a couple of visionary scenes. Battles are choreographed adventurously, instilling a mythical feeling best summarised by Joan’s plastering her hair with clay slip to create her own helmet, engendering an earthiness and a sense of the supernatural at the same time.
Anchoring the ethereal proceedings are fine performances. Kate Sawyer takes the title role admirably; convincingly abstracted, using what little vulnerability her character has to great effect and even, I’d swear, blushing on cue. Christopher Tester plays Joan’s father and the invading Talbot superbly. Best of all is Natasha Rickman who doubles as the Dauphin and his mother, the violent Isabel, with breathtaking skill.
This innovative show about a warrior inspired by religion feels hauntingly topical. The Faction has certainly found a convert to its work in me.
Until 28 February 2015
Photo by Holly Wren