The Trial of Joan of Arc
Venue : Wythall Parish Church
Date : March 1962
Genre : Play
Director information coming soon!
Earl Of Warwick
Peter Cauchon, Bishop Of Beauvais
De Courcelles, Canon Of Paris
Chaplain De Stogumber
Brother Martin Lad Venu
St. Joan trial re-enacted in Wythall Parish Church
George Bernard Shaw’s play “St Joan” is not one which reflects great credit on the Church. The words are not mine but those of Rev. C. F. Sharpe, Vicar of St. Mary’s, Wythall.
Yes it was an excerpt from this work which Wythall Dramatic Society chose to perform in St. Mary’s last Friday and Saturday as part of that Church’s Centenary celebrations.
Was it a suitable choice und the circumstances? The answer is a definite yes. For the play is a demonstration of simple, unshakable faith and it shows how that faith, and virtue, can eventually triumph over hate, prejudice, hypocrisy, self-righteousness and jealousy even though these human failings may be the victors of the moment.
In “St. Joan” the Church represents these weaknesses. And nowhere are they more in evidence that in the trial scene where pent-up feelings and beliefs erupt into a volcano of unleashed emotion.
The Society started with the obvious disadvantage of being unable to fully develop character: the trial excerpt lasts for little more than an hour. But to balance this, in their effort at an historical (15th century) presentation in full period dress, they were aided by the natural surroundings of the church: its pillared and general architectural beauty provided excellent atmosphere.
Although casting and costumes were both admirable. I thought that John Clark’s production at moments lacked pace and that of incisiveness by some of the characters, notably Peter Cauchon, Bishop of Beauvais (Ivan Castle and the Inquisitor (Roger Booth).
The latter part in particular called for the projection of a powerful personality and the voice of stern experience. Roger fell rather short of this ideal, exuding instead more of a quiet authority. Not enough, when called to preside over the violent explosion of emotion that was the trial of St. Joan.
Perhaps some of the players were a trifle overawed at appearing such reverential surroundings. But this was certainly not true of Estelle Shutkever, who played St. Joan. Hers was a towering performance, one of rare sensitivity and comprehension of all that the part called for. She played the 19-year-old Maid of Orleans as though she were a saint on earth.
The power with which she interpreted her role drove hard at the crux of the play: drawing on a vivid contrast between the godliness of this young girl and the fear-provoked attitude of the Church who must burn her at the stake because they sub-consciously see in her everything they should be but are not.
From this stems the dramatic highlight of the piece: only by destroying her do they realise the blinding truth that they have created a saint whose name will live till the end of time.
“I held a cross in front of the stake and Joan told me to get down or I would be burnt,” says a stunned Brother Martin Ladvenu who cannot come to terms with the realisation that Joan could think of the safety of another when she herself was suffering such heinous agony.
And as the Rev. Sharpe also observed: “There are valuable lessons to be learned from this play. Even today, there is still not enough unity in the Church among denominations”.
It is perhaps the honest of this self-examination, more that anything else, which makes a scene from George Bernard Shaw’s “St. Joan” a most appropriate contribution to St. Mary’s centenary celebration.
Unknown, Local Paper