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The Lark

Anne took the lead role of Joan at Leatherhead in Surrey during March 1967, the only time, as far as we are aware, that she has appeared there. A local paper included this article on the production.

Gallic Joan

One would not expect a Frenchman and an Englishman (Ulsterman, actually) to have similar views about Joan of Arc, but thus it is with Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” and Jean Anouilh’s “L’Alhouette”; it is Christopher Fry’s translation of the latter, predictably called “The Lark”, which is the new production at the Leatherhead Theatre.

Since 1955, when this English version was first performed, historical plays, including Anouilh’s “Becket”, have exploited modern techniques.

At that time, though, Anouilh’s use of the “distancing” effect, when the characters stand aside from the action and discuss it, must have seemed daringly original. Now it is nothing new, and I am not convinced that it helps this play.

Whereas Shaw progressed by grand scenes in chronological order, Anouilh sets the story in the context of discussion between the Earl of Warwick and the Church officials.

Keith Andrews, who directs, could possibly have improved the staging of these passages by using more stylism; the fact is that, particularly at the beginning of the play, the device seems verbose and undramatic.

What Anouilh was capable of doing with the theme is shown where the story follows its natural course, as in the first meeting between Joan and the Dauphin. This scene alone confirms a brilliant performance by Emrys James. We see the Dauphin throughout as a stunted, effeminate, despised creature behind whose façade lies a shrewd brain and a grain of latent courage.

Joan works on this unpromising material, and a splendid climax is reached as, terrified, he asserts his kingship over his advisers. Mr James’ characterisation, including the speech impediment, compels attention.

Joan herself is played by Anne Stallybrass in a way that both Shaw and Anouilh would have approved, as a plain country girl with unusually clear reasoning powers and a conviction of divine inspiration. Speaking with a neutral rural accent, she conveys the girl’s humble background, also the dynamism that made hardened soldiers obey her. Towards the end of the play, during and after her trial, she poignantly reveals the anguish of being completely misunderstood.

If Anouilh was as concerned as Shaw to put in an acceptable light the actions of Church and State, he was less successful. The predominant feeling in this production is of sympathy for Joan, the individual conscience, and anger against authority in the shape of the clerics and politicians.

As the struggle goes on, it reminds one of the Stalin purges and perhaps, on a less violent level, Mr Wilson’s muzzling of his Left.

Neither playwright seems to favour authoritarian control of the individual, but Anouilh takes sides more openly. His Inquisitor is much more vindictive than Shaw’s, and Vernon Dobtcheff pinpoints his fanaticism thinly veiled behind a line of bland argument. Ronald Adam emphasises the Bishop’s desperate attempts to convert Joan, but he was still groping on the first night for his real position in the struggle. All the clerics are hampered by their ceaseless and often pointless movement on the stage. The impact of the trial is diminished by this restlessness.

Raymond Adamson and Mark Kingston bellow effectively in their representations of the rough squirearchy, but Ronald Mansell and Paul Harris lack conviction as disgruntled potentates. Their authority should be more obvious before they are deposed by the Dauphin.

The scene at the stake is well managed, although more simulated flame would improve it. The flashback to the Coronation at Rheims, which follows, is a puzzling artifice, and exemplifies the stifling of dramatic tension which pervades this play.

Anne Stallybrass - as Joan of Arc - ponders over her part during a lull in rehearsals for the French version of the story - “The Lark” -  at Leatherhead Theatre

© Surrey County and Leatherhead Reporter
9 March 1967

Anne had previously played Joan shortly before her twenty-fourth birthday during her first few months at the Sheffield Playhouse. The national theatrical publication The Stage gave a glowing review of her performance.

Fine Joan By Anne Stallybrass

A remarkable and refreshing portrayal of Anouilh’s Joan of Arc is being given at Sheffield Playhouse by Anne Stallybrass, already one of the new season’s outstanding players. Directed by Geoffrey Ost, the Christopher Fry translation of “The Lark” deftly catches the true French mood in the manner intended by the author.

Beauchamp, lustily acted by Graham Lines in “The Lark” at Sheffield Playhouse, has a line to the effect that nothing bores him more than people who take themselves too seriously. It must have been in that frame of mind that Anouilh set about creating his idea of Joan of Arc, and only a Frenchman could have done it in the sparkling manner by which it is played by Anne Stallybrass. It could be that he did not quite succeed in getting the character as he had in mind, but with a little imagination it is easy, and enjoyable, to fill in the gaps.

Anne Stallybrass excitingly makes this Joan a tantalising bundle of feminine bewitchery, and it could be that the legendary Joan was nothing like this at all, nor does it matter. This is a story about a woman and her complex nature, and not about a political trial.

It is a most exacting part for a young actress, and Anne Stallybrass meets the challenge with vigour, freshness, and individuality. She very successfully epitomises the young of any generation: fighting all the time to soar above all the things which cage them in. Joan of Arc might have had some political fervour, but basically she was a woman, every woman, and Anne Stallybrass, thanks to Anouilh, displays all the feminine mental quirks. A most engaging performance.

Adding to Geoffrey Ost’s clever direction, in which he makes full use of stage lighting, there is all-round acting support, but particularly from David Pinner, as Charles, the Dauphin. His is a sparkling gem of pure acting, pure buffoonery, creating spontaneous applause which, though possibly misplaced, is certainly truly earned. It could be that the Dauphin was something like this character.

David Grey as the Inquisitor, Roger Rowland as Cauchon, Anthony Collin as Promoter, and Gerald Harrison as Captain La Hire, are perfect foils for Joan’s many changes of mood.

The version is Christopher Fry’s translation, as good as ever, but the change at the end, so different from the French original, is hard to understand. That, however, does not detract from the enjoyment and appreciation of a young actress who surely must make an impression in her art in due course.

© The Stage and Television Today
25 October 1962

Theatre 60s

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