The 1923 play tells the story of the 19-year-old French girl who, following supposedly divine visions, led the French army to a number of significant victories in the Hundred Years’ War, before being burnt at the stake in Rouen for heresy in 1431. Shaw examines the extraordinary series of events surrounding one of history’s most compelling figures, who was made a Catholic saint nearly 500 years later in 1920.
In the title role, Anne-Marie Duff follows in the footsteps of many other famous Joans including Sybil Thorndike (for whom the role was created), Uta Hagen, Joan Plowright and Judi Dench. Also in the NT cast are Oliver Ford Davies, Paterson Joseph, Angus Wright, Christopher Colquhoun and Paul Ready. The production is designed by Rae Smith, with lighting by Paule Constable, sound by Paul Arditti, choreography by Hofesh Schechter and music composed by Jocelyn Pook.
First night critics were all in agreement over the merits of Duff’s central performance, calling it “outstanding”, “superb” and “bewitching”. The consensus was also uniformly positive over the robustness of Shaw’s play, and Elliott’s “intelligent” and “exciting” production, with its physical and Brechtian touches winning over a few doubters. There was praise too for the supporting players. And, while a few questions were raised about the length of the piece (over three hours), especially the epilogue, this did not detract from a production which, to most, excellently demonstrates “the dangers and intolerances of religious fundamentalism”.
- by Stuart Denison