Soup Can Theatre’s ambitious production of the Heretic is a modern retelling of the Story of Joan of Arc. Sarah Thorpe the creator and performer in this show, was inspired by the monologues in Shaw’s St. Joan, and wished to expose the vulnerability of this teenage girl, and to challenge herself as an artist. Most people are at least vaguely familiar with the story of Joan—an uneducated peasant girl who heard voices, ostensibly from God, and with no military experience, led a French army, making significant gains in the Hundred Years War. Eventually she was imprisoned, labelled a heretic and burned at the stake.
Without question, Thorpe is an engaging and palpable performer. My interest in taking in the nuances of her performance never wavered during the 65 minute running time. The challenge with a one-person show, is if you don’t connect with the performer, you are stuck with them to the bitter end. This was not the case here. Thorpe entertainingly played a variety of secondary characters while morphing in and out of Joan.
Theatre Passe Muraille Backspace was an ideal location for Heretic and was used well. The set was simple and effective. I particularly liked the chalk drawing on the back wall, by scenographer Alyksandra Ackerman, which looked like the outlines of stain glass images found in church. Randy Lee’s lighting design was exquisite and beautifully complemented the drama.
Thorpe in collaboration with co-director Scott Dermody, came up with some very inventive concepts. I appreciated the choice of Joan incorporating chalk words, and images on the stage floor, so as the action progressed, she would add words, and pictures to illustrate her journey. I also liked the clever idea of using a big mustache on a stick in one hand to play the King and a glove and big ring on the opposite hand to play his mistress. Thorpe swung back and forth between the two characters to the great delight of the audience. I am glad she found these moments of humour to bring levity to heavy material.
My main complaint with Heretic’s production is that it didn’t seem to pick an era. At times the language seemed very modern and at other times it did not. Even the props were mixed between period pieces and novelty store finds. The piece is billed as a modern retelling but I don’t feel like the play went all the way with that in either storytelling or execution. I also felt Thorpe needed to go deeper into the rage, pain, and madness of Joan. I wanted to have my guts ripped out by the end, but they stayed safely intact.
Heretic is an admirable piece, and there is much to enjoy. Small companies creating their own work always excites me, and I suspect we will be seeing a lot more from Soup Can Theatre.