4 July 2019 | TheLittleSongbird
'Saint Joan' does intrigue as a play, with from personal view a compelling heroine, an interesting story structure and the latter parts of the play are moving. It is nowhere near George Bernard Shaw's best though, it's no 'Pygmalian' and also find 'Man and Superman' better. Some criticise it for being talky and preachy, and it has been criticised for its inaccurate portrayal of medieval society and "romanticised" characterisation of Joan.
This production, seen as part of the National Theatre Live cinema series, has a good number of merits and is worth the watch. One's enjoyment of the production is very much dependent on their opinion of the play from my perspective, anybody who has any of the above issues with 'Saint Joan' are not likely to find themselves converted. Anybody who at least appreciates it though should like it more. The production does well in keeping the characterisation as balanced as possible, trying not to make things too black and white (meaning bias, which is laudable considering that that has been a criticism of the play, The Inquisitor particularly is a problematic character in trying not to take sides), though it misses the point of the play's nationalist theme which it could have handled much more subtly.
It is a good looking production, did have reservations with the modern setting as 'Saint Joan's' setting always did strike me as being quite specific in time period. But the production keeps it looking tasteful with the lighting being especially well done. Enough of the dialogue is thought-provoking and with some nice wit at times, and the story's subject and themes are handled intelligently and compellingly generally, feeling surprisingly relevant/timely. That is even with the production's adapting of the play being heavily cut.
A number of good scenes can be seen in 'Saint Joan', especially the edge of the seat trial scene and the heart-wrenching epilogue. The very beginning was suitably contemplative. The cast all give great performances, with Rory Keenan and Richard Cant being standouts. But it is Gemma Arterton's Joan that makes the production worthwhile, whether dignified or poignant she is utterly riveting and her best moments in the latter half mainly are electrifying.
Did think though that when Arterton was not on stage, the production didn't always have the same amount of momentum. The pace can get leaden, and it is not helped by that it can feel too talky and over-literal even with the cuts.
Found some touches a bit on the heavy-handed side, like in those trying clearly to help make the story "current" (i.e. the news commentary).
Altogether, intriguing production and mostly well done, especially the performance of Arterton, but could have done with more oomph. 6.5/10