Crusading zeal and religiously inspired nationalism are certainly topical issues right now, but director Charles Nowosielski isn’t aiming for any simplistic political message with his production of Saint Joan at Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre. ‘Joan's magnetism isn’t that of some mad Hitlertigure,’ he says. ‘It came from hertaith, her complete certainty. That’s what I’m interested in — how did this illiterate country girl inspire people the way she did?’
Although Shaw said he attached no ‘objective validity’ to Joan’s ‘voices’, Nowosielski takes a very different view. ’As far as I’m concerned, she’s touched by God, she hears voices,’ he says. ‘So we actually have them
F. . d
The Brunton Theatre out in force.
onstage, the three saints who speak to her. They represent three aspects of the woman; we’re trying to pull her apart, basically.’ The religious atmosphere is heightened by setting
f the play in a cathedral, complete with monks and a sung mass- a constant
reminder to the audience of the
: Church’s then all-pervading influence.
There are political issues in the play,
5 notably the conflict between ; individuals and institutions. Joan’s tragedy is that her crusade, though
non-political, is manipulated by politicians who dispense with her when she becomes dangerous. But Shaw
; gives us no black-and-white heroes and villains. ‘Giventhe circumstances, ’
the churchmen and nobles had to do
; what they did,’ says Richard Leat, who
plays the Inquisitor. ‘Joan presented a threat to the entire social order. She may have been right, but they weren’t wrong.’
The play’s conclusion makes it clear that we should be wary of standing in judgement. ‘At the end, in 1920 when she’s canonised, she says, “Shall I come back, now I’m a saint?",’ explains Nowosielski. ‘And everyone says, “Er, well . . . no, we’re not ready for you yet.” We can make them saints, but we still can’t deal with the reality of people like Joan.’ (Sue Wilson)
Saint Joan, the Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh,13—29 Sept.
V NEW PLAY
’One thing I’m very concerned about is that I can‘t imagine people wanting to come and see a show about Northern Ireland, because it’s such a turn-oft subject,’ says Rona Munro, the writer of 7:84’8 new play Bold Girls, about tour women living in West Belfast. ’That's part of the reason we’re doing this play,‘ she adds.
Her assertion is that ‘women‘s lives there, are no different from working class women‘s lives anywhere; it’s just that the poverty and the whole situation are more extreme because there’s a wargoing on and theircommunity is in the middle of that war. Their problems tend to have a more extreme form, but
still the same things altect everybody. People thinking about Ireland tend to see it in terms of politics and violence; and theirthinking is slightly unreal about the people themselves. The kind of things that go on — like roadblocks and RUC raids- are like a background: they're not really part of the story.‘
The story centres on a group of three women- mother, daughter and friend— whose past conflicts and tensions are re-awoken by the arrival at a stranger. The revelations which follow are laced with a strain of humour. ‘lt’s been
described as a gritty comedy,“ says
Munro, ‘but it’s notlaugh-a-minute, it’s more like a drama with humour in
it. The thing that always gets me about Northern treland when I go there is that
' people tell you horror stories. but they
make them so funny that you‘re lying on
52'l'he m l-i- 27 Scptctnbernl‘)‘)ll ‘ "
what I wanted to get across as well — it’s very much part of the culture, the way people deal with the situation.’ Despite the upheaval of recently becoming a mother, Munro has been able to attend most rehearsals, but the script has required tew alterations. ‘The cast and the direction are spot-on,’ she says, ‘and it’s not been one of those scripts where it goes into rehearsal and you’re still frantically doing eight million rewrites.’ Born in Aberdeen and based in Edinburgh, Munro has visited Belfast a number at
times both professionally and socially,
but was still anxious about the
authenticity of the play’s language. But the cast- all born in Northern Ireland — have dispelled this tear. 'They seem to
think that it's pretty well got there,’ she
the floor crying. It is black; and that was Rona Munro
says. ‘But I’m very nervous about taking the play to Belfast!’ (Andrew Burnet)
Bold Girls opens at Cumbernauld Theatre on Thursday 27 Sept. and tours Scotland (and to Belfast) throughout October and November.
V NEW PLAY
Sporting a pink carnation and a copy of The Times. Mark Fisher hung round a secret location until Peter Arnott showed up. The innocuous brown paper bag did the trick. The conversation was bugged.
On an abstract set of semi-enclosed rooms. unexpected figures emerge from a maze ofdark corners. Peter Arnott‘s Salvation is that rare thing in Scottish theatre. a play written in a specific genre. Set in a fictional city combining elements of Latin America. Eastern Europe and the Islamic nations. Salvation is a complex political detective story which seeks to untangle a web of murder. conspiracy and religious fundamentalism.
The first in the 'l‘ron‘s promising autumn season of new plays by Arnott. (‘hris l lannan. Anne Downic and Bruce Morton. Salvation is Arnott‘s response to the under-hand political machinations of big countries exploiting small ones while state leaders fall back on religious dogma and holy market forces to justify their actions. It's also about a man making sense of it
all. ‘lt‘s that kind ofconspiracy thriller.‘ says Arnott. ‘where you send a man into the middle of the darkness and he tries to find his way out. It‘s using reality as a stand-point for what’s credible. It‘s not just an interest in the thriller genre. it's an interest in the very particular way that thrillers are always testing reality.‘
The play was inspired both by an 1890s Salvation Army poster in which the poor swim in a sea of misery and corruption while the lighthouse above radiates its beams
. ofsalvation to the colonies. and by Munt'amas. the Mill-page report of
the Argentinian (‘ommission on Disappeared People made up of horrific interviews with torturers and
their victims. But the play‘s two
specific triggers took place while Arnott was on honeymoon in France. ’(iiven the play it is. it makes the honeymoon sound horrific!‘ he laughs. ‘In Paris. my wife and l were traipsing merrily along and came to this glade where all these single men
were wandering about. 'l'hen round a
corner there were three prostitutes up against trees — they were really vivid and gaudy. It was like an orgy in the middle of this wood ~ it was obviously a known place which is why the first line of the play is “The body was found in the Woods of Joy".
"l'he second image was of a punk boy in Orleans with a pigeon tied to his wrist — it wasn't tame. it was flying about. I stuck these two images together and came up with a diplomat’s body being found in a notorious place. which I've called the Woods ofJoy. and a boy being found beside him with a dead bird tied to his wrist.’ It was then up to