Joan at the Battersea Arts CentreCultureTheatre
Joan of Arc, you know her? Peasant girl from the 15th Century? Burned at the stake for heretical visions and dressing like a man? That’s the one. It’s certainly a story for the ages, but Joan writer and director Lucy J. Skilbeck has breathed captivating new life into this centuries-old tale.
Joan originally ran as part of Derby Theatre’s ‘Retold’ series, a collection of one-woman plays that upended classics like The Odyssey and told their stories from a female character’s perspective. Following its success and a later run in Soho, Joan is now transporting audiences from the intimate Members’ Library at the Battersea Arts Centre to Middle Ages France.
Using a well-blended mix of evocative stage theatre and uproarious cabaret, Stilbeck’s play wastes no time expanding upon the tale of the titular heroine. Played compellingly by award-winning drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson (better known by her stage name, LoUis Cyfer), Joan travels from the ruins of her ransacked village to the courts of French royalty and, eventually, to her death as a French martyr. This backdrop sets the stage for Parkinson to explore the deeper themes that Skilbeck weaved expertly into her story: belonging, self-determination and embracing one’s own identity. It’s a role she takes to adeptly; be it in the lighter moments, where audience engagement is used to great effect (Parkinson’s cabaret experience shines here) or in weightier sections, where her delivery brings the crowd to rapt silence.
Of course, being billed as a ‘fusion of lyrical writing and cabaret prowess,’ Joan would be remiss if its musical sections left anything to be desired. Thankfully this isn’t the case. Parkinson’s singing, throaty and full of an accent that would be at home in a Yorkshire working-men’s club, is used to give voice to the male characters, who each get their own gloriously flamboyant number. Donning fake facial hair and gaudy costumes, Parkinson provides the backdrop to the heroine’s tale, transforming herself variously into Joan’s workaday father, the preening Charles VII and the arrogant Bishop Cauchon.
This intimate, funny and insightful retelling of a timeworn story is brought to life by an insightful script and brilliant acting. Between Skilbeck’s writing and Parkinson’s delivery, which has audiences alternately in gales of laughter or sombre reflection, Joan is not a show to be missed.
Joan is on at the Battersea Arts Centre from 14th until 16th July 2016, for further information or to book, visit here.
Watch the Derby Theatre’s trailer for Joan here: