by Lynn on April 9, 2015

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Lemon Tree Studio, 58 Stewart Street, Toronto, Ont.

Created and performed by Sarah Thorpe
Directed by Matt Bernard
Scenography by Claire Hill
Lighting by Randy Lee
Sound by Jakob Ehman

A bold re-telling of the story of Joan of Arc as a teenager inspired to do great things. Bravo to creator/actor Sarah Thorpe for setting herself the challenge.

The Story. Creator/performer Sarah Thorpe doesn’t do things in a small way. As a director she directed an impressive production of the daunting play, Marat/Sade that was my introduction to the kind of gutsy theatre that Soup Can Theatre does as a matter of course. With Heretic she wanted to set herself a new challenge as a performing artist: to create a piece of theatre about Joan of Arc to peel “away the saintly glow that surrounds Joan’s persona to expose the vulnerable teenage girl underneath.”

Using historical references, but contemporary language and expressions, Thorpe gives us the basics of Joan’s life plus insights into her determination and fears. She was a farm-girl who lived with her father and mother. Her father was a bully and browbeat her for her independent nature and her convictions. She was illiterate but loved going to church and immersing herself in the world of God. She always lived in a time of war. The Hundred Years War had been raging. England held sway over France resulting in the demoralized attitude of her people. She began hearing voices from God when she was thirteen. God told her to lead the French army against the English and to place the Dauphin on the throne as King of France.

Her voices made her brave and confident. Her confidence won over many soldiers and French leaders including the Dauphin, that perhaps she was not a crack-pot but a sign from God that the French people could triumph. And triumph they did. The French repelled the English and she put the Dauphin on the throne. And as we know the powers that be could not contend with an illiterate peasant girl who wore men’s clothing and led them to victory. So they condemned her as a heretic and burned her at the stake. She was nineteen.

Production. Scenographer, Claire Hill does wonders with a tight design budget. She has created the world of France for Joan. The walls of the stage are covered in a kind of wallpaper of sepia coloured photos of old-fashioned windmills, people and places, giving a sense of ‘long ago.’ On the sides are blush burgundy curtains suggesting the richness of the French court. Small flickering candles are placed on ledges in the curtains. A French flag hangs down in a door-well upstage.

The production opens with Joan in silhouette in front of the French flag. She is holding a shield in one hand and her other arm is up in a dramatic pose. She wears pants, a simple top and boots. When she comes into the light she speaks with authority as if addressing her troops before battle. This is the Joan with whom we are familiar. She soon puts down the shield and addresses us as a young teen we haven’t see before. Even as this young woman telling us of her life, Sarah Thorpe’s playing of Joan is compelling. Her Joan understands her world—the war, her angry father, the stunned surprise when God chooses her to lead the French army and her reticence at first but then gives over to serving her God.

This is an agile performance that shifts from innocence to wisdom to uncertainty. Thorne also plays many other characters including the Dauphine, his mistress, a commentator on the war presented almost like an announcer at a hockey game, her father, a cocky soldier in sunglasses and an interrogating priest. Thorpe is ably guided by director Matt Bernard who has a delicate but sure hand. The scene in which Joan is being beaten by her rather is particularly vivid in creating that image because it is so effectively done. The interrogation between the priest and Joan is equally as effective. When the priest is speaking a cross hangs down around Joan’s neck. When Joan is speaking Thorpe shifts the cross to hang down her back. There is a subtle sound of crackling fire when Joan is at the stake. And do I actually smell smoke during that scene? Vivid. The production is full of images that create this world. The simple act of putting out the flame of a candle speaks volumes.

There is a misstep though. The scene with the commentator reporting on one of the battles as if it’s a frenzied game on radio or television, is a mistake. It might be funny but it diminishes the importance of what Joan is doing and the rest of the play certainly supports that seriousness. Thorpe is compelling in the role; extraneous humour is not needed.

Comment. This gritty, thoughtful, well done production is one of the many reasons I love indie theatre, and certainly the work of the feisty Soup Can Theatre Company adds to that feeling. Hereticis well worth a visit during this very short run.

Soup Can Theatre presents:

Run: April 8-12, 2015
Cast: 1 woman
Running Time: 45 minutes.

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