Joan – Review – Lawrence Batley Theatre
Joan – Review
Lawrence Batley Theatre, May 2017
by Rose Condo
There is something enchanting about entering a theatre stage from the wings into a dramatically-lit performance space. So it was at Huddersfield’s Lawrence Batley Theatre last week… except that we were entering as audience members to take our seats on the stage, set up in an intimate cabaret style circle, to watch Milk Presents’ production of Joan.
As the lights dim we are swept into Joan’s story, skilfully performed by drag king champion Lucy Jane Parkinson. Joan begins by anxiously anticipating the arrival of St Catherine, making an impromptu ‘reserved’ sign with an audience member’s programme, and placing it on an empty seat.
We never see Catherine, but her presence is felt throughout Joan’s epic tale of visions, battles, triumph and despair.
We are immediately disarmed by Joan’s charm, wit and vulnerability. She engages the audience throughout the show, confiding in us, flirting with us, even convincing us to create a battle scene soundscape.
The writing is poetic and punchy, and the seamless use of lighting and sound repeatedly transforms the performance space.
The show offers reflection on questions about gender and identity… literally. There are four mirrors set up at the edges of the cabaret circle, which Joan uses to apply makeup and costume pieces to take on male personas in the story. Already wowing us with her skills as an actor, Lucy shifts the show into an even higher gear with outstanding cabaret drag numbers.
Throughout the hour-long show, there are raucous moments of hilarity and painful scenes of doubt and betrayal. We watch as Joan tries to embrace femininity, and ultimately defies those who impose gender restrictions. It is both heartbreaking and hopeful to see this story told with such honesty, celebration and courage.