Imara Savage’s hard cut production gives us a St Joan for this moment.
George Bernard Shaw’s 1923 classic has a teenaged daughter of a French peasant in the dock but it’s the patriarchy on trial.
Dispensing with much of Shaw’s original dramaturgy and inserting new elements devised with Emme Hoy of the STC Emerging Writers’ Group, Savage substantially tightens the focus on Joan (Sarah Snook), her “voices” and her exploits.
Shaw’s Saint Joan, which draws on the historical record, is related in six scenes and an epilogue. The dialogue frequently sparkles but tends toward the chewy and long-winded and played in full, would take a good three hours to unfold.
This version, by contrast, is revealed in a little over 90 minutes and it exerts a powerful grip throughout.
Snook came to the role when its announced star Yael Stone withdrew from the production late last year. While it would have been fascinating to see Stone in the role (a more febrile take on the character, it’s tempting to imagine), Snook is completely commanding. She has a powerful stillness.
Shaw describes his Joan as having an “uncommon face” and a voice that is “hearty coaxing … very confident, very appealing, very hard to resist.” It’s hard to imagine the old man wouldn’t approve of Snook, even if the editing of the text would likely have brought on a blue fit.
Savage’s text condenses the other roles into a chorus of black-clothed religious and secular authority figures. David Whitney, John Gaden, William Zappa and Sean O’Shea have a firm grasp on the musicality and wit of Shaw’s language. Brandon McClelland is excellent as the General (Shaw’s Dunois). Gareth Davies expertly taps the humour in the pathetic figure of the Dauphin.
Designer David Fleischer’s set is a grandly minimal statement: a huge pleated curtain creating a cathedral-like sense of scale, accentuated by Nick Schlieper’s lighting and composer Max Lyandvert’s use of long organ pipe tones, which swell into focus at key moments.
The final image of the production is a masterstroke: a clever, liquid restatement of our first glimpse of an armoured Joan that also chimes with iconic images of martyrdom and immolation from more recent times. It’s an incredibly powerful moment.