Dazzling in its triumphant fury, Joan is swept from the flames into eternity. Enthralling.
A single flash flares, piercing the darkness like starlight frozen in time. Projected on a gauze screen barely a metre from the front row, it hangs pendulous then opens wide, becoming an eye, perhaps that of God, but also that of the feted and ill-fated Joan of Arc.
Depicted by four actors clad in diaphanous vestments, Emily Milledge, Dana Miltins, Nikki Shiels and Luisa Hastings Edge, in truth they are one. The already mesmeric and disorientating opening gives way to an almost hallucinogenic vision of the warrior saint four times repeated. Like a reflection caught between two mirrors, each Joan appears momentarily from within the darkness, like aflame sparking, then falling to her knees, arms and eyes to heaven, prostrate with a gasp of devotion that ricochets through the ages.
The latest bracingly smart and structurally dazzling work from triumphantly feminist theatre company The Rabble (Kate Davis and Emma Valente, Cain and Able, Orlando), while Joan may have been brutally silenced by the patriarchy, this almost entirely unspoken production reclaims her voice with burning clarity.
There is the stake, recurring like an inescapable truth, it’s twig both sun-lounger and funeral pyre, lit by that phallic symbol most oral with loaded status, a cigar. Willing and unwilling, there are violations of the body caught on candid camera and violent herding with a cattle prod.
And amidst the horror of a woman’s struggle to be heard, to be respected and yes, even adored, set loose from gender boundaries, there is also a scandalous humour grasped from the maws of monstrous action.
By the time the flames come, the audience tastes the acrid smoke in such a visceral, visionary way that I could not help but glance nervously around the old bones of St Kilda’’s Theatre Works and wonder about the chance of survival in disaster, even if a fire extinguisher has been, very smartly, worked into the text by Valente.
Just as the absence of words within the electronic storm of Joan’s swirling soundscape has become the world, the Joans at last grasp onto language in rabble-rousing blast of prophetic poetry that spans the eons in their stride. No one remembers the scared and stupid, scurrilous men who burned this brave soul, and yet she is eternal.
Stephen A Russell @SARussellwords
Book tickets to see The Rabble’s Joan at Theatre Works here.