Performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson
Until February 10
The idea of the teenage warrior/martyr/saint Joan of Arc haunts us, from classroom history to Shakespeare, Schiller and Voltaire, George Bernard Shaw to Leonard Cohen, as hot and elusive as flame.
Nothing in my experience, though, captures the idea of Joan more completely and more convincingly than Lucy J Skilbeck’s Joan. It is also an exciting, hilarious and deeply poetic piece of theatre, performed with incredible passion and élan by the British drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson.
I won’t waste too much of your time regurgitating the well-known history of Joan – and it’s not mere historical accuracy (which in any case is disputable) that Skilbeck and Parkinson are about here.
As they tell it, though, the young Joan, beset with visions of St Catherine, sees her village plundered and her mother raped and killed by English marauders. Called by Catherine to rid France of the invaders, she meets the dissolute Dauphin of France and persuades him (she is now 17, remember) to give her an army for the purpose.
She inspires her army to break the English siege of Orléans and, three months later, install the Dauphin as Charles VII, but he reneges on his promise to support her, and, left with only the remains of her army, she is captured and, after a show trial, burnt at the stake.
It’s not the tale but the telling that matters, though, and Skilbeck gives her Joan a wonderful language – bawdy, ribald and power-packed – the best analogy I can think of is Shakespeare’s Henry V, with her “I am Joan – BEGONE, OR I WILL MAKE YOU GO!” before Orleans every bit the equal of Henry’s “Tomorrow is St Crispin’s Day”.
Parkinson’s Joan, mohawked, tattood, black T-shirted, with an accent of pure Sheffield steel, is utterly different from Jean Seberg’s iconic page-boyed saint in shining armour, but she inhabits the character completely.
Her ardour is wonderful, but so is her sassiness – among the highlights of the show are three of Skilbeck’s songs, for Joan’s dee-dar dad, the mincing Henry and the corrupt judge Pierre Cauchon, all of whom Parkinson plays in drag. There’s something of Rice and Lloyd Webber in the songs, and Parkinson gives them all superstar treatment.
Her audience work is also fabulous. People give up their seats for St Catherine, make out as horses, dance with her, walk “like men” for her, all in high good spirit.
And, of course, the delicious irony of a drag king (Parkinson, AKA LoUis CYfer, is a quest-winning practitioner) playing history’s most famous cross-dresser is a kicker throughout.
Unlike Joan, I cannot MAKE YOU GO to this show, the highlight of the Fringe so far, but if there’s an empty seat for the rest of its short run, it’s a travesty.