Spontaneous Human Combustion cleverly interweaves the personal journey and sense of mission of protagonist, Astrid, with visions she sees of Joan of Arc as she channels Joan’s determination. As Astrid battles with her anger about losing her sister, she heeds Joan’s call to battle. The play delves into the realities and challenges of a teenager dealing with loss and coping with grief. It does so in a way that sensitively and deeply values and validates a young person’s experience.
Apart from a fleeting and drunken moment with her mother, Astrid is the only character who sees Joan. The actor playing Joan must therefore understand that she is Astrid’s imagining of her, rather than an accurate historical depiction. Joan offers Astrid guidance and strength and her magic offers her salvation.
The tropes of magical realism are cleverly conveyed in the construction of, and interaction between, characters and the convergence of time and place with magical altercations impacting the story’s events. Students become soldiers, classrooms become battlefields and Astrid accepts the apparition of Joan in her domestic domain.
To ensure fluidity of action, the stage directions demand contemporary solutions and invite innovative action choices to realise the co-existence of the two worlds—the magical intervention of Joan in Astrid’s real world. The past, simply and swiftly intercepts the present in a head-on collision.
Although Spontaneous Human Combustion deals with themes of loss and change, ultimately it is a story of defiance. Journeying with the characters as they reveal their foibles and face their fears, it reminds us that we are all only human; that we share the common experience of finding our way through life and need to remain connected.
This play leaves us with a message of hope—if we are driven by spirit, justice and courage, we may find our purpose and a cause truly worth fighting for.
The two videos below are the trailer for the production, and a live performance of Spontaneous Human Combustion.
2020 Copyright Brisbane Girls Grammar School
This resource was written by Mrs Katrina Riveros with video by Mr Brad Jennings.