Schiller's Joan of Arc is not a well known play in Britain so full marks to Faction Theatre for tackling it as part of their ongoing project to bring Schiller to a wider audience.
In this sparky, incisive version, adapted by co-director Mark Leipacher (who also stood in for one of the cast on press night) it comes across as a rather good play which probably deserves more outings than it gets.
Kate Sawyer gives us a troubled, tortured Joan, unwilling to marry like her sisters and a great worry to her father. Eventually, clad in a symbolic clay helmet smeared on her head and a clayed-up sword arm she leads the French troops through the complications of her corner of the Hundred Years War – with the Duke of Burgundy (Christopher Hughes) wheeling, dealing and side-switching and Queen Isabel of France (Natasha Rickman) having deserted her own side completely.
Eventually come the accusations of witchcraft and the inevitable ending which in this version stops short of the stake. Sawyer is often tight-lipped and soft spoken in her portrayal of Joan's gritty determination, mystic otherwordliness and rather modern refusal to have anything to do with male suitors – in many ways it's a feminist play. At other times Sawyer's eyes glitter and her voice thickens menacingly. It's an outstanding performance.
There's fine work from Rickman too as the authoritative, pragmatic Dauphin and the ruthless Queen Isabel who half-echoes Lady Macbeth ("I who have given suck…") in her chilling, unexplained, hatred of her son. Also noteworthy are Christopher Hughes as the inconsistent Burgundy, Christopher Tester as Talbot/Thibaut and Francis Woolf as the ever decent Raimond, pleading and supportive.
Faction Theatre's trademark physical theatre ensemble style, which can seem gratuitous, works to excellent effect here. A group of actors become, for example, the druid tree which haunts Joan, and the combat scenes are both neat and effective.
This is the third of Faction's three rep plays in the current season. The others are Romeo and Juliet and The Talented Mr Ripley. This one is quite a triumph and definitely the best of the three.
Joan of Arc is running in rep at the New Diorama Theatre until 28 February 2015