Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Canada’s most-awarded
newsroom for a reason
Stay informed for a
lot less, cancel anytime
“Exemplary reporting on
COVID-19” – Herman L
per week
for 24 weeks
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Sara Topham as Joan with cast of Saint Joan.

David Cooper

3 out of 4 stars

Saint Joan
Written by
Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Tim Carroll
Sara Topham
Shaw Festival
Festival Theatre
Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
Runs Until
Sunday, October 15, 2017

Insofar as a single production can be said to foretell anything, Saint Joan – which opened the Shaw Festival's season on Thursday night – is a sign of a shift at the Niagara-on-the-Lake repertory theatre company.

New artistic director Tim Carroll's first show of his tenure suggests a levelling of old hierarchies at the festival, a change that's refreshing at the very least.

There's a true ensemble feel to his Saint Joan that we haven't seen on the festival's mainstage in a while – new actors bringing their own personalities and styles to the stage, a few imported major performers challenging ideas of who the stars are, and no one either standing out or sticking out, for better or for worse.

Story continues below advertisement

Set in the 15th century, Saint Joan is Bernard Shaw's 1923 chronicle play about farm girl Joan of Arc (Sara Topham), who is told by her voices to lead the siege of Orléans, crown the Dauphin in Rheims Cathedral and drive the English out of France.

Shaw follows Joan on her quest as a series of men – military, religious and monarchical – are convinced by her and find rational reasons to back her; and then, once Orléans is captured, discover new ones to abandon her to the Inquisition and the English.

Shaw famously described his play as having "no villains" – even the Inquisitor (Jim Mezon) gets to give a most sympathetic account of why heresy must be stamped out and tries his best to keep Joan from burning. The playwright highlights Joan as a destabilizing figure whose direct relationship with God and belief in a land called France threatened both the church and the feudal order – a proto-Protestant and nationalist.

But what makes this one of his most satisfying plays amid all the chatter about such subjects by a parade of powerful men is that it offers up the irresistible and feminine force of Joan.

Topham, a veteran of the Stratford Festival, offers a variety of tones for Joan – a yoga hippie at first, curling her leg up underneath her as she compels a squire (the excellent Allan Louis) to give her a horse, armour and soldiers. Later, short-haired and crouching, there's something Peter Pan-like in her as if she's readying for flight as well as fight. Her most startling scene comes when she speaks directly of her visions to commander Dunois (Gray Powell) – and, wide-eyed, wet-eyed and fervent, seems to indeed be channelling something otherworldly.

It's not an entirely coherent performance – but Topham's an unusual actor in that she often floats around characters, rather than fully inhabiting them. How much she enlivens the play, however, is entirely clear in the one scene from which she is absent, which contains Shaw's clearest expression of the play's ideas, but is dramatically dull as dishwater.

Carroll has worked on thrust stages at Globe Theatre in London and the Stratford Festival – and the set Judith Bowden has designed for him here suggests he may be pining for one in Niagara-on-the-Lake. It plunks a black diamond down on top of the stage with a pointy tip facing the audience that actors stand on to soliloquize. Bowden's stunning set is an abstract one: horizontal lines of light, a vertical pole that plunges up and down, a black abyss with a big white cube that hovers in the air and occasionally descends to stage level.

Story continues below advertisement

Twice the entire cast – save Joan – is encased in that white cube – a rather literal illustration of what an outside-the-box figure she is. (Later, when she is burned, society finally finds a container for her.)

There are some lovely performances from the well-known and familiar here – Tom McCamus effortlessly charismatic as the wry voice of English feudalism; Powell bringing both sense and a sense of sex to Dunois; and the marvellous Wade Bogert-O'Brien charmingly petulant as the Dauphin, hopping up and down off a high-chair throne.

Most encouraging are solid debuts from Karl Ang as a chaplain who realizes too late that he has no taste for cruelty; and a sympathetic Andrew Lawrie in a variety of roles. The previous regime had the bad habit of giving small parts to new actors who didn't fit a particular mould – and making them look bad in them.

The actors bring their own flavour to the stage and speak in their own accents, whether they are playing French or English – which might be confusing if the English characters weren't constantly declaring their Englishness. Carroll's production allows the audience largely to listen to Shaw, appreciate or get irritated by all he has to say and the style with which he says it. What it doesn't do is have a strong take on the play.

Saint Joan is from the beginning of Shaw's slide toward anti-democratic attitudes, where his justifiable suspicion of elites paired up with a disturbing fascination for men of "iron nerve and fanatical conviction." The fact that Joan comes in the form of a teenage girl makes her a palatable heroine – but as Shaw scholar Leonard Conolly points out, she is a "nationalistic, populist, anti-establishment, intuitive leader" who declares that God "gave us our countries and our languages, and meant us to keep to them."

If there's something frightening about Joan, rather than merely fascinating, it's absent here from Carroll's convivial production and Topham's smiling performance – and that's a shame as Joanism seems to be in the ascendant.

Story continues below advertisement

Saint Joan continues to Oct. 15 (

'Come From Away' is set in Gander, Nfld. in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks when more than six thousand airline passengers were stranded after U.S. airspace was closed. The award nominations include best musical, best score and best actress.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies