Lucy J Parkinson in JOAN.
Photos: Robert Day

Though it be not wooden, the O into which we are welcomed demands much from us.  For a scant hour …  our attention and our suspension of belief.  For here we will behold the vastly fields of France and carried here and there, jumping o’er times, we will witness this Joan of 1000 parts, the equal of warlike Harry.  JOAN is tour-de-theatre of great matter.

Lucy J Parkinson is Joan.  In a work written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck, Parkinson will transform into the maid, the soldier and the tortured martyr.  And others besides in this deceptively spare space.  Played in the round with merely 4 tall mirrors and 4 wooden crates, initially cross shaped but during the show to serve as soapbox or storage.  And shirts for the characters they take on.  Shirts which allied with artfully applied makeup provide gender implications where required.

We will experience Joan through her own eyes as the text reveals her passion, from before the first meeting with Saint Catherine to her final destruction by the patriarchy.   Not unlike the character, Parkinson has a way with people.  In direct speech to the audience Parkinson is charming and open and the gathered can’t help but join in.  There are times when Parkinson leads them cheerfully, and we hear the army and the horses and think we can see their proud hoofs as we are exhorted onwards to Rheims.

There are other times when Joan’s oppressors bestride a box to sing or speak.  A whimsical, rapping, French-Canadian accented Dauphin is easy to enjoy, an inquisitor hell bent on Joan’s conformity is not so.  When the latter’s rot and rubbish is in Joan’s mouth, our anger is leashed in like hounds and we are desperate to rebut.  Parkinson and Skilbeck defy the watcher to remain unschooled.  They know that each of us has been told to be other than we are …. some so much more than others.  As this dubious man of God with his prating about laws of nature and the atrocity of aberration stands before us our hackles rise with empathy unbidden and the judge stands judged.

JOAN is a galloping beast and the ups and downs are orchestrated with skill by the performer.  There is subtle and effective use of lighting and an audio track which foregrounds Joan’s beloved bells while accessing violin and flute toward the end.  Plus a thrilling  ecclesiastic background for the great victory of Joan and her soldiers.  But it is word pictures and the musicality of superb vocal work that delights and transports.

Energetic and nuanced Parkinson commands the space and one’s heart can be broken with a description of chaos or a final song of belonging or the spirits can soar as laughing together always does.  It is divine playmaking,  designed with craft and delivered with skill and daring.  One cannot but gently  hear and kindly  judge, the  play, JOAN.

JOAN, from UK theatre company Milk Presents has a short season at the Seymour Centre until 18th February.