I was interested when I moved into the Lyric auditorium last night and saw the set and I was captivated within five minutes of the opening scene of Jimmy Fay’s production, St. Joan.
The stage of the Lyric Theatre was a picture, big open area, a streamlined office which eventually morphed into a courtroom, a great design by award winning Grace Smart, set and costume designer. The rapport between Robert de Baudricourt (Alan McKee) a would be a middling civil servant and his deputy Polly (Abigail McGibbon) sets the standard of acting.
The word has come through about a young girl from the country who professes to have visions of the Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria and in the peel of bells she hears their voices telling her to raise an army and go to the Dauphin (Kevin Trainor) and assure him she would take France back from the English forces and bring him to Reims to be crowned King Charles Vll. Polly has met the teenager, says there is something about her and tells her boss he support her in her quest. He tells her to hold her breath, to cool her porridge, but she persuades him and so Joan’s journey begins.
She appears before Robert to be grilled, a frail little ragamuffin of seventeen, wearing only a rough jacket, torn jeans and black boots. She insists she isn’t a woman, she is a solider and Dwyer Hogg is passionate in her belief in Joan. There is a great stillness about Joan or is it Lisa, the actor becomes the part and both are powerful. The play is performed in todays language although Joan (Lisa Dwyer Hogg) retains some of the speech of the time. Adapting the script, undertaken by Philip O’Sullivan who also plays the Archbishop and the Inquisitor, and modernising the set works well. The water cooler in the corner, the iPads and computers are all acceptable. Tony Flynn as Harwich and Rory Nolan as La Tremouille make up this excellent cast.
Most of them double up with a second character, again very convincing with a change of body language and costume although when Robert become Le Hire perhaps a change of suit colour might have been an idea. The sound scape is brilliant and heightens the tension.
The characters played by Dwyer Hogg, McGibbon and O’Sullivan are difficult but handled brilliantly. Long intense speeches held me, and it seemed the entire audience, spellbound.
In the end Joan was charged with heresy, dressing in a way unbecoming to a women and they didn’t like her attitude of always being right.
May 1431 and we are in the middle of the cross examination. The atmosphere is intense and Joan’s reaction to the charges is powerful; when she is carried away to be burned at the stake, amongst those who sealed her doom there is a sense of ‘what have we done’.
A large group of young people from a local college were huddled in groups discussing the show when we came out of the auditorium. I spoke to them and they were buzzing with what they had just experienced.
This is one of the best productions I’ve seen at the Lyric.
8th October 2016
More at www.lyrictheatre.co.uk