23 April 2017

Review: Joan

Joan
The Rabble
22 April 2017
Theatre Works
to 30 April
theatreworks.org.au

Dana Miltins. Joan. Photo by David Paterson

Damn you, The Rabble. Just when I think I can’t love you any more, you go and make Joan.

I felt burnt alive and risen from the ashes.

Joan. Joan D’Arc. Saint Joan.

A young woman. Whispered to by saints. Virgin. Sinner. God’s holy soldier.

She became a hero, a saint, an aspiration for young women that they too can be strong and be destroyed. She’s a great audition pieces in the play by a man written three years after she was canonised.

She was burnt alive. She was 19.

Starting with a darkness that only Emma Valente’s lighting and Kate Davis’s design can find, shapes – women? a woman? young women? – move into light or are found in the darkness. It could be the holy light above or a light to run from. With projections in front of and behind the stage, it hints of a black and white movie but is nothing like a black and white movie as the sound of breath and bodies falling to their knees asks if their kneeling is choice.

After light, they move through explorations of body, fire and voice. And to make such mesmerising imagery sound so clinical, intelligent and “artistic” is unfair.

Founded by Valente and Davis, The Rabble’s process starts with design and develops through improvisation. Text and texts are vital to their process but is one of the last things on the stage. We watch more than we hear, and when the women are finally given voices, their words are fiercer, brighter and more blistering that the fire – that fire! –  that came before.

It’s hard to think when watching this work. It’s seems so clear but every moment is filled with ideas and discussions that are too complex to be reduced to words.

Luisa Hastings Edge, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins and Nikki Sheils are Joan. Each is extraordinary and together they confront the expectations of Joan and her story, and question why pain, strength and faith are considered virtues for a woman, let alone a child.

At times, it’s like getting into Joan's soul and feeling with her. But it’s more confrontational when we’re distanced and see ourselves judging her as a Saint or Sinner and putting both on a pedestal that burns with the bundles of wooden faggots stacked around her.

The Rabble create astonishing independent theatre with an independent budget. I'm thrilled to be able to see them in small rooms, but it's beyond my understanding why festivals around the world aren't begging for work like this to be in their programs.

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