As the lives of the saints go, you’d be hard pressed to find one with more drama, twists, turns and heroism than Joan of Arc’s. So it’s no surprise that her story has been told and retold over the centuries, serving as a metaphor for courage beyond the call of duty and the overcoming of improbable odds. In the hands of Lucy J. Skilbeck, who wrote and directed JOAN, it takes on an intriguing new angle: the armour-clad medieval saint as gender warrior.

In a gutsy, energetic performance, Lucy Jane Parkinson single-handedly portrays both Joan and the various men who try to keep her firmly in her place: her flat-capped Northern dad, imploring her to find a good man and settle down; the camp and controlling king of France, gold baseball cap in place of a crown, who’s happy for Joan to risk her neck for his benefit; and the whiskered advocate who leads her to the stake for burning when her popularity threatens that of the king.

The writing is clever: lyrical and tender one minute, as the uncertain Joan wonders if she’s got the nerve to take up arms on France’s behalf; then bold and inflammatory the next, as she orders her troops onwards. There are jokes, songs and hip-thrusting dancing, but it all makes a serious point about the limitations placed on women’s ambitions and the consequences for those who defy the men in power.

Offered the chance to save her skin if she submits to her feminine role, Joan tries her best to conform until the self-deception becomes intolerable. We all know it’s going to end badly, but this uplifting, heartfelt and at time hilarious piece of theatre defies all expectations.

Words: Judy Diamond

JOAN, Underbelly Cowgate, Aug 21-27 August (not 26), 7.20pm; Underbelly Med Quad, 24 August, 1.15pm (wheelchair accessible)

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