Joan of Leeds is currently the most fabulous fringe show in London.
This crazy, heretical and absolutely hysterical new production by Breach Theatre celebrates queer voices, rewrites history, and offers a meta variation on various theatrical conventions all at the same time. ‘Though this be madness, yet there’s method in’t’. Or, to use a more fitting quote – ‘Get thee to a nunnery!’
Based on the medieval story that came to light at the beginning of this year, this ‘alternative Christmas show’ tells a story within a story of The Yorkshire Medieval Players who aim to stage a Christmas play with a strong Christian moral of hell and suffering. They, in turn, tell a tale of a young girl called, you guessed it, Joan (wonderful Bryony Davies, true star quality), who due to uncontrollable sexual desires, fuelled by the Devil (hilarious Alex Roberts) is sentenced by the Bishop (charismatic Olivia Hirst) to life in the monastery. There, she meets lovely and good-hearted sister Agnes (Rachel Barnes, beautiful voice and powerful stage presence) who becomes her best friend, confidante and maybe even something more, but when she encounters Christopher (fantastic Laurie Jamison), her almost-a-lover who doomed her to the life of the cloth, she decides to run away.
Billy Barrett’s meticulous directing is thoughtful and full of novel and surprising concepts, oftentimes very contrasting. From mocking mystery play scenes of queer saints engaged in mockingly blasphemous acts to naturalistic design, Barrett and set designer Lizzy Leech create an original and vibrant story. Alex Fernandes’s lighting is the icing on the cake, brilliantly creating the mood. On top of that, James Frewer’s music begs for the official recording – from medieval chants to pop and rock, it’s immensely catchy and enjoyable, particularly All Night Long – although Barnes is occasionally a bit tight in her upper register, her voice and delivery are nevertheless stunning. Sound might have been directed a tad better, as it is sometimes difficult to hear the lyrics.
Joan of Leeds is a must-see show this Christmas, albeit not for the faint-hearted in terms of sex and religion portrayed together on stage. But by all means, it is a breath of fresh air among countless pantos.
For show information and to book tickets click here