There are the obvious statistics where it makes itself known: In Australia, one woman a week on average is murdered by her current or former partner; 85% of Australian women have been sexually harassed; Indigenous women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised due to family violence than non-indigenous women.
Yet beyond those tragic outcomes is an insidious phenomenon that has proven incredibly resilient and persistent. When dealing with such a massive scale of size and time, it’s difficult to conceive how best to even glimpse it before turning the conversation into how best to fight it.
With The Voices of Joan of Arc, Janie Gibson makes the inspired choice of considering misogyny by choosing one life and event to focus on. Time and time again in the piece Gibson brings us back to the trial of Joan of Arc. She shows the audience glimpses of the girl herself, but then there are the other voices – the rough, crude masculine judge or the shallow, mocking feminine peers.
One of misogyny’s abhorrent characteristics is how often it’s found in actions and voices of women. Indeed, Gibson gives the feeling in the audience that we have a kind of theatrical phoropter on our faces, asking if see misogyny better with this lens, or that lens? Clearer when we hear this voice? Or this one?
Over the course of the show, Gibson steps in and out of multiple costumes and characters, including herself. We are addressed directly as well as silently, a lovely quiet exchange at the outset. Later, there’s something similar yet tremendously moving in the piece’s final moments, a small gesture from Gibson turning the audience from being complicit in Joan’s fate to keeping a solemn vigil – for Joan and all those lost before and after.
Liesl Pieterse’s sound design was brilliant and the perfect accompaniment to Gibson’s performance, whether sitting still tuning a radio, or hurling herself about sword in hand. As skilled a storyteller as Gibson is, Pieterse’s sound helped lift the show into compelling and memorable territory. The Fringe Festival are fortunate to have them.
The Voices of Joan of Arc
Sylvia Staehli Theatre – Dancehouse, 150 Princes Street, Carlton
Performance: Wednesday 25 September 2019 – 9.15pm
Season continues to 28 September 2019
Information and Bookings: www.melbournefringe.com.au
Image: Janie Gibson features in The Voices of Joan of Arc – photo by Daniel Han
Review: David Collins