There are continuities. And there are differences. In Warsaw I frequent National Theatre Live screenings in a glitzy multiplex up five escalators, in a cinema with more than 200 seats, in the evening, after a ten minute tramride and a walk through the main station. In Narooma I go to the same screenings in the intimacy of a small cinema of thirty seats in the afternoon after driving for half an hour, parking nose to nose with a tree, and walking five paces to the side door.
I activate these comparisons continuity when I go to see Bernard Shaw’s “St Joan”, last seen in Sydney in my youth when I used to take my theatre loving aunts to Old Tote performances. After all, they were the ones who introduced me to the theatre: “The merchant of Venice” when I was eight, starring Robert Helpmann and Katherine Hepburn. As soon as I saw Gemma Arterton as Joan, I was reminded of Zoe Caldwell, the 1962 Sydney Joan, and my faded memory even produced her name.
The performance this time was filmed in the Donmar Theatre, that erstwhile banana storage warehouse in London. The setting suggested a boardroom with a background of sharemarket screens, a news reader and paintings of the medieval Joan. This worked for me, although not for many critics, making the entrenched positions of church, state and army overtly modern as Joan, dressed in a way that suggested the medieval, challenges their entrenchments with her passionate convictions of rightness and her role as one appointed by God. The dialogue is unexpectedly lively and amusing in the hands of a superb cast: I remember it as irritatingly dialectic and abstract.
One thing the performance revealed to me was a rather worrying conservatism and respect for authority, the same feeling I have with the conviction of Julian Assange. How can someone believe so absolutely that they are in the right? Especially with many “experts” saying otherwise?
And I’m left with a gnawing question: did Joan sheer her hair off with her sword onstage as featured in the trailer? If so, I didn’t see it. Where was I?
For other portrayers of Joan, read