Knowing this, it makes walking into the space at Theatre Works to take your seat a visceral experience. It’s very dark and the smell of burnt wood is unmistakeable. The performance begins gently, but a small sense of unease still lingers. There’s layered projection, as well as the beautiful, desperate ritual of multiple Joans falling in supplication.
A piano sounds one plaintive note after another, distorted to echo the sound of a gasp. Indeed, the idea of breath is explored at different times – whether the nervous anticipation in front of a microphone, the final breath at the point of dying, or the sharp intake of air to accompany a violation masked as examination.
As well as breath, the cast – Luisa Hastings Edge, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins, and Nikki Shiels – also use body and voice to not only tell the story of Joan, who had hers taken, but place her as a totem. Joan becomes a symbol of any woman since who has had her voice silenced.
The use of pace is immaculate. Nothing is rushed or lags, everything is given the time it needs. The ability of Co-creators, Kate Davis, and Emma Valente, to make such thematically rich storytelling coherent is impressive. Sudden falling objects, repeated introductions of technology, naked flames, there’s a myriad of unexpected moments, yet it all feels organic.
Particularly striking is the prodigious full moon near the end, inflated and glowing. The moon is a traditional symbol for renewal, intuition, and wisdom. To be sure, it is wisdom that each performer imparts – an insight or lesson that can be taken from the death of the 19 year-old, Jeanne d’Arc.
JOAN is an indictment. JOAN is a polemic. JOAN is justified. JOAN is exceptional theatre.
Theatre Works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
Performance: Sunday 23 April 2017 – 5.00pm
Season continues to 30 April 2017
Information and Bookings: www.theatreworks.org.au
Image: Luisa Hastings Edge in JOAN – photo by David Paterson
Review: David Collins