Manchester Theatre Awards

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Joan (Queer Contact Festival)

Lucy J Skilbeck
Milk Presents/Derby Theatre
The Contact Theatre , Manchester
14 February 2017 to 16 February 2017

Themed theatre festivals can become hectoring affairs with political points rammed home so bluntly you feel more like a hostage than an audience member. Thankfully, Joan, written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck, proves that the fine art of persuading the audience towards a particular viewpoint in an entertaining and moving manner is not yet lost.

Skilbeck’s script faithfully describes key points in the life of Joan of Arc from experiencing angelic visions, through leading troops to overcome the English forces occupying France to her execution. The gender and identity themes are clear - Joan is portrayed as a cross-dressing woman who was betrayed by men- but her story is told in such an engaging, at times even lighthearted, manner that there is no sense of being force-fed political dogma. Skilbeck’s script takes a poetical turn and captures the ecstasy of Joan’s belief in her visions so vividly that you can accept she would chose to sacrifice her life rather than go on without her convictions.

If the script is delicate, Skilbeck’s direction is raucous and bawdy. Sole performer Lucy Jane Parkinson switches from impassioned speeches to karaoke at a moment’s notice. Disco balls positioned on tables suddenly burst into life. To ensure that the modern relevance of Joan’s story is not lost she is portrayed as a gobby Northerner in a ‘Tank Girl’ T-Shirt.  

Lucy Jane Parkinson can certainly work the room ,persuading patrons to take on roles as potential lovers, archers or horses or to provide sound effects. She has a comedian’s rapport with the audience; when one patron assures her that his performance will be okay on the night she sighs, wishing for a pound every time she has heard that line. Parkinson has a fine eye for talent, basing Joan’s manly stride and tone of voice on an exceptional example of rampant masculinity: me.

The play is made exceptional by Parkinson’s ability to show the depth and sincerity of Joan’s beliefs. Rather than portray Joan as a swivel-eyed fanatic she instead reflects a humble sense of wonder, showing Joan stunned by the glory of God. It is a seductive approach and makes you wish that you could share such beliefs.

Hugely entertaining and poignant, Joan is an excellent play.

Reviewer: David Cunningham