Friday, February 17, 2017

'Saint Joan' by George Bernard Shaw

17 February 2017

I have still not visited the Donmar Warehouse in London but this week we were at Cineworld in Milton Keynes to see the NT Live broadcast from the Donmar of Josie Rourke’s production of ‘Saint Joan’ by George Bernard Shaw. As with the live screening of Rourke’s production of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' by Christopher Hampton (reviewed here in January 2016) I was impressed by the intimate nature of the theatre, with its four rows of seats on three sides of the stage. It reminded me of The Other Place – the RSC’s (now defunct) third auditorium in Stratford-upon-Avon. As I wrote here in July 2014,  I always used to like The Other Place for the way it got you closer to the actors, stripping away the distraction of the big production values of the old Royal Shakespeare Theatre stage and allowing you fully to appreciate the brilliant acting. I felt the same about this performance of ‘Saint Joan’ at the Donmar Warehouse. Josie Rourke has given the play a modern corporate setting with each scene taking place around a constantly revolving boardroom table, allowing the audience a rotating perspective of each of the actors at very close quarters. Gemma Arterton’s Joan of Arc is the only character in period costume and each time she enters the stage she seems to drag the play back to the 15th century: three giant video screens showing Bloomberg stock index updates fade to display a religious triptych and the lighting dims. Gemma Arterton gives an amazing performance: her Joan is a cheerful pollyannaish religious fanatic, unfazed by setbacks and completely convinced she is carrying out the will of God. Shaw plays often feel extremely long and wordy but can also be incredibly funny – as I noted here in my review of 'Man and Superman' in May 2015. Josie Rourke has cut the text of ‘Saint Joan’ considerably and brought out an unexpected amount of humour in what is a failry bleak tale. The trial scene towards the end of the play was a brilliantly handled ensemble performance in which you could sympathise with all the opposing points of view simultaneously while ominously appreciating that Joan’s plight was not going to end well.

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