A free afternoon in another city. Seen everything in the movies that I want to see. What do I do? Go to the Arthouse cinema and hunt out a film which is showing a play which has recently been on the London Stage. George Bernard Shaw - how wrong can you get?
I love Gemma Arterton, I have done ever since she was in "Tamara Drewe". The timings would mean I could get to the airport with time to kill. Why not?
This was a great decision.
The National Theatre in London has a number of spaces. The Donmar Warehouse is their theatre in the round space. The stage goes back four rows - it's tiny. And in this space, this band of players puts on George Bernard Shaw's "Saint Joan". Written and first performed in 1923, the play has a timelessness which is both unsettling and uncanny.
I won't go into the story of Joan of Arc - it's a well known story - and the play / film takes this on board. Why labour a story you already know. What the play does well is move this to modern times.
Director Josie Rourke has taken Joan from the farms of the East of France to a modern boardroom, giving this production extra clout. Adding to this an element of the 24-hour news cycle, social media and the BBC Newsnight and you have a thought provoking and timely production of this Trump era.
I loved this production. Not being able to go to London to take this in, the film version is a great - brilliantly filmed and very, topical. With a cast of "Oh, yeahs" (Those English actors whose faces you know, but you can't name them) Gemma Arterton carries off the lead role of Joan with ease - from the fervent farm girl, to the soldier, to the Christian martyr, betrayed by everybody and left to her fate at the stake.
What takes this play to the next level is the setting. All of the action takes place on a revolving stage around a board room table. All of the men in the play are dressed in modern day suits - sharp, corporate suits. Joan is left to her peasant, soldier and prisoner clothes. This juxtaposition is stark and telling. What is most disturbing, from the modern angle, is how Joan, once her mission is completed , is thrown out with the trash. In this corporate setting, the message could not be more unsettling or clearer.
Gemma Arterton steals this production. Eminently watchable, she's a force of nature, channeling Joans fervour and resolve. The "Oh, yeahs" do a great job too, though with the exception of Niall Buggy (you will go, "Oh, yeah" when you google him) most relatively unknown, but excellent jobbing English stage actors all the same - you will have seen a few of them on Midsummer Murders. My favourite kind of actor.
Look out for this film of this play. It's great.
I'm looking forward to the National's season which will be filmed and shown in arthouse theatres around Australia in the coming months. It's a way of making the London Theatre accessible. I wish it happened more.