New theatre company Fast Intent have chosen The Boys School in Smock Alley for an adaptation of Jean Anouih’s The Lark. The choice of venue can’t be faulted; Smock Alley is atmospheric, cavernous and dark, it’s high ceilings and low benches perfect for sermonising. However, it is the choice of play, or rather how the play was chosen to be told, that is highly misguided. Mixing comedy and religion is akin to persuading oil and water to coalesce. Unless you’ve got an arsenal of silly songs, it’s virtually impossible to raise a smile out of heavenly salvation. Fast Intent can’t seem to decide where they stand on their material, forever winking at the audience in an overly-familiar way whilst nodding gently and beatifically heavenwards.
The Lark centres on the trial of Joan of Arc, and the events leading to her fall from grace. Joan of Arc is a feminist icon, a full-hearted figure of feminine power, yet The Lark strips her of all subversion. The men who she succeeds in manipulating are wimpish and white-minded, making her achievements rather trite. Their insignificance and sexual interest in Joan reduce her feats, suggesting all you really need to overthrow a patriarchal system is a good push-up bra and a babyish pout. Joan herself lacks the vivacity, the nous and the unsmiling steadiness to truly convince, coming across as annoyingly holier-than-thou. She calls to mind horribly prim girls who don’t dare scuff their Communion dresses or stumble on their prayers for fear of eternal damnation. She is far too stilted, too stuck-in-the-mud, for the audience to be swept away.
The problem with The Lark is that it is a serious play and serious subject matter deserves to be treated thusly. Any attempts at humour in induce the kind of toe-curling usually reserved for homilies with dodgy references to pop culture, shouted out by some Father Trendy and marketed at today’s ‘yoof.’ Certainly, the play could have benefitted from a revisionist approach and a deeper analysis. The text is overwhelmingly dense, robbing Joan of humanity and strangling her with monologue. The potential for The Lark is immense, each of the actors showing range and the direction being fluid and consistent, and I hope Fast Intent will make use of it.