George Bernard Shaw is widely considered to be the greatest playwright after Shakespeare, and Saint Joan is one of his final great works, written when he was 67. The play is long. Even though director Kim Collier, leading lady Meg Roe, and dramaturge Rachel Ditor spent some time editing the script, it still clocks in at over three hours. I’m not against long plays — Shakespeare’s plays, even when edited, are still lengthy — but this didn’t seem to have enough dynamism to hold our undivided attention.
This production reminded me of Bard on the Beach with its modern set and score, sharp costuming, and actors who have no trouble delivering their lines, but it didn’t have the same level of humour and action that draws you in and holds you the entire show. There are some humourous scenes, such as Joan approaching Captain de Baudricourt (Bob Frazer) and telling him that he will order her to defeat the English. Frazer’s looks of incredulity were met with laughs from the audience, and Roe’s fearless innocence was perfect for her role.
Haig Sutherland as the Dauphin also provides some comic relief when he talks back to the Archbishop (Nigel Shawn Smith), and Dean Paul Gibson was wonderful as the gluttonous Earl of Warick. Warwick and Bishop Cauchon (Scott Bellis) have a lengthy discussion about Joan’s fate that is lively at times, but drags on a bit as they seemed to sit at the table in discussion for far too long.
The exciting moments came when the troops scaled the balcony and Joan hung off the edge of it to scream her war cry. I also loved the two singers flanking the stage who added the perfect sonic atmosphere to this eerie, sombre story of a young woman who was burned for her beliefs. The claim that her heart would not burn is an image that sticks with you, and I think this cast paid tribute to Joan through their insightful performances.
The play ended with a beautiful sentiment, but the decision to have the actors out of character and in plain clothes caught me a bit off guard. Meg Roe walked to the front of the stage addressing the audience directly as she quoted the ghost of Joan from Shaw’s epilogue: “O God that madest this beautiful earth, when will it be ready to receive Thy saints? How long, O Lord, how long?”
Saint Joan is presented by Arts Club Theatre Company October 23 to November 23 at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage. For more information, visit artsclub.com.