So, burn me at the stake but I was completely bewitched by Joan – part compelling theatre, part horrible-histories, part drag act and all hugely entertaining.
The basic set comprises four mirrors and four crates forming a cross in the centre of the room, with seating arranged for the audience cabaret-style, and as ‘in the round’ as you can get at this venue with its two-level seating arrangement. We are met by a women in a black Tank Girl T-shirt and shorts, telling us: ‘She will be here soon’.
That person is the super-talented, Lucy Jane Parkinson, who treats us to a whistle-stop history lesson on the plight of Joan (before the Saint bit), working the audience cabaret-style, with a lot of comedy, many songs and transforming into different characters before our eyes with a little help from some moustache glue, facial hair and even gold lamé at one point.
Director, Lucy J Skilbeck steers a clever story of Joan of Arc, taking us through what happened to her, beginning with visions of St Catherine as a teenager. However, this is not simply a history lesson about a 15th-century French young woman who dressed as a man to win the loyalty of her army to take back the besieged city of Orleans. This is a story about gender: gender’s role in society, and how gender is perceived – giving it a 21st century relevance for today’s audience.
Joan, while dressed as a man can deliver the compelling leadership to raise a loyal army, taking back Orleans and giving Dauphin Charles the crown in the process. However, once exposed as a woman in men’s clothing, she is deemed unnatural and ungodly, and must surely be a witch so is put on trial.
When Joan is first taken to be burned, at the last moment, she signs a confession, denouncing her visions. She is allowed to live, but to do so, she has become what was perceived to be womanly in the 15th century – feminine and of course looking for a good husband. Parkinson’s morphing skills really come to the fore in this moment of the show, managing to make one feel sorry for Joan, angry at Society, yet the way she searches for a good husband is absolutely hilarious.
Parkinson is a whirl of energy throughout, directly addressing the audience, speaking to individuals and asking questions. She has a roguish wit and the Yorkshire audience really give as good as they get, with resulting hilarious banter.
Joan tries to live a lie and be someone she is not – creating so many parallels with LGBT people in UK, who only a few decades ago had to hide who they were for fear of imprisonment. Today, some 600 years after Joan was burned, there is a similar struggle for those who don’t fit the gender binary and who must fight daily to be accepted for who they are without fear of witch-hunts.
The show starts with reference to the Catherine Wheel, with its fizz, frantic motion and dazzle. However, that fizz and dazzle is present throughout the show – Lucy Jane Parkinson is superb and has the audience eating out the palm of her hands throughout. This is a gem of a show and well worth trying to see if you can!★ ★ ★ ★
Joan from Milk Presents was at the Leggers Inn, Dewsbury on 25 July 2019.