Joan of Arc
Written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck
Performed by Lucy Jane Parkinson
I haven’t thought much about Joan of Arc since religion and history classes at my Catholic primary school!
In this Milk Production, we first meet the young tomboy Joan (played by Lucy Jane Parkinson) as our heroine waits for a visitation by Saint Catherine ‒ ‘she of the Catherine Wheel’ the rambunctious Joan is quick to inform us. My deep-past memory grinds into activity, as I think about the myriad martyr stories I was also told back at that primary school. Admittedly, apart from some gratuitously macabre deaths I can’t remember much about the Catherines, Marias and all, whereas the story of Joan of Arc is one I have not forgotten.
Parkinson plays Joan as a sturdy young heroine who reacts as anyone would, if visited by a long dead saint. Her disbelief and questioning is a huge part of why this stage production is so touching. Joan struggles with fear for both sanity and identity; unsure if she is blessed or cursed. She suggests that there has been some mistake, that she is just a peasant girl, that she is not worthy of such a task … in fact, any excuse she can think of.
As important to the story-line as the historic detail in this production about the life of Joan of Arc is that Joan is a girl in drag. Parkinson can jump from vulnerable young girl watching her mother raped and trampled by English soldiers to one of her playful (and impressive) x-dressing personas: first as Joan's solid, loving dad; then as the effete and narcissist Dauphin, Charles VII; and finally as the pompous, pro-English Pierre Cauchon, who trials Joan for heresy. (It should be mentioned at this point that Lucy Jane Parkinson is an internationally acclaimed and award winning Drag King.)
Only once before have I seen such convincing gender transition on stage. It was at a fund-raiser at the Slide Lounge on Oxford Street almost 10-years ago when I watched Trevor Ashley transform from a big bloke sitting at a dressing table wearing a hairnet to emerge a diva capable of belting out 'Respect 'with enough soul to rival the original Aretha (this year Trevor Ashley is playing at Sydney Opera House – you’ve come a long way Trevor!)
Apart from Ashley, Parkinson is the only drag performer I have witnessed capable of such complete transformation. From a simple, theatre-in-the-round stage configuration, Parkinson uses her charismatic warmth, talent and story-telling ability to conjure the boy/girl Joan and take us on a journey full of humour, bravery and insight.