Joan photos by Field McGlynn

The Round at State Theatre Centre

Reviewer: Jan Hallam

Rating: Five Stars

A comet has landed at the Fringe. A rare, wondrous thing pulsing and glowing brightly in the dead-dark bowels of the State Theatre Centre – in a rehearsal room that theatre watchers are never normally privy to see.

The comet is called Joan and she’s new in town. However, after a very few minutes in her company you will be transformed. You are on a journey to the before, the now and the beyond.

Its origins are a galaxy in the northern hemisphere (UK theatre company Milk Presents) and its creator is Lucy J Skilbeck who wrote the script, the lyrics and composed the music. They are powerfully and seriously good. So good, in fact, you have the opportunity to buy the play text for $15 in the plain world upstairs at the end of the show. I did … for the grandchildren. They will be studying this text for their finals, some day.

So, what happened last night?

Solo performer Lucy Jane Parkinson is waiting for the bodies from the world above, as they wind down the many steps that lead to Rehearsal Room 3. Grinning and hopping about a little nervously, but not nearly as nervously as the audience who have to sit within three metres of the play space. No barriers here, no dark shadows in which to hide – for anyone.

Parkinson is Joan – of Jeanne d’Arc, Maid of Orleans mythology – a character who has been worked over by cultural forces for the past 600 years from every angle. The teenage girl who leads an army to defeat the invading, marauding English and unite her homeland.

Her Joan is no frail thing. The back cover of the play text describes her as a gender warrior. Well, yes, there it is. A central trope of this play. As well as unite France, this Joan is a liberator, a fighter of those chains that dictate who we are and what our life script will be.

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There are a few stereotypes along the way – Joan’s father who has arranged her marriage, the plotting Machiavellian Dauphin who lures Joan with the idea of righting a terrible wrong while being an embodiment of the same wrong. Judge Pierre Cauchon is a simply terrifying example of judicial misanthopy. However, all are portrayed with the irony of panto largeness that’s never overdone.

There is humour. There is a little audience participation but not in that Dame Edna poke and prod superior kind of way. It’s more ‘help me with this scene … I have to learn to walk like a man, physically, literally.’ A chap from Rockingham was able to help Joan with that. The fellow who was asked to show her how to be loved by a man was a different story, a more poignant affair … but see for yourself in your own version of the show.

Because at the core of Joan’s awakening, and what feels to be the giant heart of this play, is love. Simple, complicated, passionate, unrequited love. More profoundly, first love, which in Joan’s case is with St Catherine, a disembodied idea of martyred perfection. This adolescent awakening is universal. In Joan it is tragic and by its implication tragic for all the Joans and the Joes struggling with these chains.

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Joan photo by Robert Day

Parkinson is marvellous in this role. Her skill and courage are a given; her heart is monumental. How she fixes her gaze deep into her audience’s eyes is an act of trust not aggression. It can be momentarily awkward, then it becomes a love song.

Which brings me back to the words of Skilbeck. She is a bard, telling heroic stories heroically and I hope she keeps doing what she does because she chronicles time and breathes life and hope into the future.

This could only happen in the theatre. How I love it.

Joan is at the State Theatre Centre until February 10.