The Lark – Bellfield, Portobello

The Lark
Performances 4th – 8th June, 7:30pm Bellfield, Portobello
Tickets £12 advance, £15 on the door www.theegtg.com

Written by Jean Anouilh

Translation by Gill Taylor

Directed by Claire Wood

Cast to the flames, Joan of Arc, heroine of France, was a peasant girl who on the instruction of God was to lead a siege against the English, paving the way for the coronation of King Charles VII of France. Whether reality or legend, she is captured and condemned to burn. A politically motivated crime of heresy was attributed. Partially for conversing with angels, but really, her only crime was what lacked between her legs.

The Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group are renowned for their dedication to texts other companies shy from. They find virtue in challenging their performers and crews. Their latest production brings Jean Anouilh’s play The Lark into the 21st century, translated by Gill Taylor.

Surrounding us are the rose-tinted windows of canonised saints, the cushioned soft wood of a pew replacing the raised levels of a theatre. EGTG are staging The Lark in a previous house of worship, Bellfield, Portobello an old Parish church. It’s setting does nothing but heighten the effect of the production. We are not solely reliving the memories of Joan as she is on trial – we ARE the memories. We sit in the centre of her life, the action surrounding us.

Claire Moland & Cara Doherty – Photography, Jon Davey

The fire commanded by Clara Doherty is remarkable, knowing precisely how to scorch the stage in glory of passion, malice and retribution for all women scorned by men in power. Yet, she has a softness to Joan, a relatability. She tempers her flames into a smoulder to empathise spiritually, forging a connection with the audience. Any performance alongside Doherty is immediately uplifted with such talent to play off of, Gregor McElvogue and Richard Godden at their best when kept on their toes by Doherty.

You can judge the merit of someone by the quality of their enemies. For McElvogue, Wendy Brindle and High Inquisitor Alan Patterson, wickedness never looked so appealing. Not even the church though, with its outright infection of patriarchal structure, is painted as a grand antagonist. Instead, there’s a deep, unearthed respect for Joan. None more so than McElvogue, perhaps the standout performance outside of Doherty.

Gregor McElvogue – Photography, Jon Davey

What Gill Taylor’s update achieves is levity, director Claire Wood’s spot-on ability to draw from each character capturing the text tremendously. With an American King of France, the accent at first raises an eyebrow, but no one could have carried this role better. Channelling his inner Gene Wilder, Keegan Siebken brings such a jovial nature to the performance, his otherwise lengthy conversations with Joan are transformed into scenes we crave. Her passion, brilliance and mirth counteract his gloriously pathetic cowardice sublimely.

A terrific live band set to provide a backing score which works wonderfully. Again, our setting was designed for this sort of acoustics and when paired alongside a choir upon high, even the heretics amongst us find beauty.

Kate Stephenson & Hannah Bradley – Photography, Jon Davey

In an attempt to bring Joan to the 21st century, the inclusion of popular songs adds a double-edged effect. On occasion, they are placed well, particular as a soldier’s song – an update on a tradition shanty. Or Hannah Bradley’s vocals, delicious addition to the role as the King’s mistress. It otherwise hinders the finale, Anouilh’s ending is peculiar, toying with preconceptions of Joan’s fate. The odd twist is given an EGTG spin which, while commendable push a little too much on abstract.

Smashing expectations of women six-hundred years ago, it’s certainly time for a reminder of Joan’s capabilities wouldn’t you say? The expectation of women in have altered, but the demands met by toxic masculinity are still prevalent. EGTG’s The Lark is a production to be proud of, in a location which reminds us profoundly that theatre can exist in any setting.

The Lark
Performances 4th – 8th June, 7:30pm Bellfield, Portobello
Tickets £12 advance, £15 on the door www.theegtg.com