Writer: Bernard Shaw
Adaptor: Philip O’Sullivan
Director: Jimmy Fay
Reviewer: Colm G Doran
The Lyric Theatre presents Bernard Shaw’s classic St Joan, adapted by Philip O’Sullivan and directed by The Lyric’s own Jimmy Fay. This piece dispenses with many of the expectations that may be conjured up by a play which examines the life of the martyr Joan of Arc. For one, there isn’t a horse or sword in sight and instead of a huge cathedral or lush landscape-turned-battlefield, the setting is an entirely typical office complete with fire safety signs and half dead plants. However ordinary the setting may appear, there is nothing dull about the piece itself.
The play opens with Alan McKee and Abigail McGibbon as the demeaning egocentric Robert and his newly inspired much put-upon deputy Polly. The former struts around the office airing his every want, while the latter attempts to gently push forward the topic of a young girl called ‘the maid’ whose positive nature and singular character is causing a stir with the other staff. Through much persuasion he reluctantly agrees to an audience. Lisa Dwyer Hogg’s Joan is commanding from the outset, she puts forward her case with confidence and rock hard assuredness to be given a horse and armour to fight. Dressed in a hippy cum hipster outfit accented with rosary beads, a mac that has ‘siege Orléans’ spray painted on the back and a soft lilting Donegal accent – it is only her cropped dark hair that she retains from her medieval depiction.
O’Sullivan’s adaptation is unique in many aspects, not least due to its sizeable reduction in cast. The effect however is a positive one. While Joan transitions from Joan ‘the activist’ to Joan ‘the politician’ and ultimately Joan ‘the heretic’, (which is stunningly realised throughGrace Smart’s vibrant costume design) her supporting cast change roles to fit the various characters Joan encounters. Most notably skilled at the transition required is Abigail McGibbon, whose nervous Polly becomes the world weary soldier Dundis whom Joan inspires into battle once more, and finally as a member of the jury at Joan’s trial who is at moments harsh but eventually overcome with regret. Likewise O’Sullivan, who not only adapted the piece but also stars in it, is particularly skilled at the dual role of the pious but calculating Archbishop and the eloquent and engaging Inquisitor, performs a monologue at the trial about the effects of heresy on society with such precision and sheer truthfulness that it deserves its own round of applause. It is this impassioned and nuanced speech that sets the tone for the mounting tension and ultimate explosive climax.
Fay’s take on this classic text is not to make you interrogate the character and motives of Joan, or to decide if she was truly in touch with divine forces. This production is not afraid to show doubt as well as faith within the characters; as well as seeing Joan’s unwavering conviction, the audience is exposed to her petulance, her pig-headedness and her pride. Similarly, the humanitarian side of Joan’s jurors is evident. Their relief when she agrees to sign the document confessing her wrong-doing, (although this is short-lived) transforms their black and white laws of what is right and what is wrong to a murky grey which matches the desolate office space. The piece succeeds in showing the confines of our modern society that are not so changed from the original setting of Shaw’s piece and what can happen when that society is threatened.
Runs until 8 October | Image: contributed.