The development and writing of this new work has been part of a significant and memorable commissioned project by Brisbane Girls Grammar School that saw Daniel Evans not only write, but also direct, the Senior Drama Company in the premier production of Spontaneous Human Combustion, staged in early May 2017. Daniel was presented with a challenging and in some ways atypical brief—to write a funny yet gritty new play for young actors and audiences in the style of Magical Realism. Inspiration for this brief came partly from the draft of the incoming Queensland Drama Syllabus (2017) in which Magical Realism was listed as an optional extension of one of the prescribed theatrical styles. As most of the recommended play texts that accompanied this list were associated with the Gothic genre, this seemed a great opportunity to be a part of developing a new work that explored this style in a fresh and distinct way.
Around the same time, Belvoir Company’s production of Lally Katz’s new play, Back at the Dojo, had cleverly managed the many flashbacks of the play without any change in the set through strong design and direction. Slick cross-overs of time transported the audience to the locations of the memories without pause. The trippy and nostalgic design aesthetic positioned the audience right inside the protagonist’s mind, much like a new version of a Tennessee Williams expressionist play. The hyper-realistic set design of Back at the Dojo very much inspired the set design for the production of Spontaneous Human Combustion and the unity of time and place assisted in grounding the stylistic conventions of our version of Magical Realism.
It was, in fact, at one of the preliminary planning meetings that playwright, Daniel Evan’s posited the idea, ‘what if Joan of Arc landed in the present day world to help with a teenager’s personal dilemma?’
Joan of Arc is a fascinating historical heroine. She represents strength, faith and conviction. Her name alone conjures up iconic armor-clad images. Her story is one of legendary battles and her beatification was controversial and complex. All of this makes it is easy to forget that she was actually a teenager herself. The concept to place her—or to hurl her rather—into a modern day teenager’s tumultuous drama makes for quite a powerful and moving story. The character of Joan offers actors openness of interpretation, as she is Astrid’s imagining of her, rather than an accurate historical depiction.
Here are some words from the playwright about inspirational Joan…
Our Joan is a contemporary re-imagining of The Maid who is, at once, a heroine, a martyr, a feminist icon and a teenage girl. It’s this interplay between everything that she’d come to represent to us over time that makes her such a fascinating historical figure. Joan heard the voice of God at 13, she led the French to victory at age 18, was burnt at the stake as a heretic at 19 and was only cleared of her crimes and deemed a Saint some 500 years later. Brave, resilient and full of conviction, this play aims to emulate her spirit.
Daniel Evans pitched the world of the play through the following design ideas and images. The design embraces the ‘school’ nature of the space and builds upon this.
A classroom full of desks provides the main setting for this work. The desks can be stood on and some are able to open up (to reveal tiny dioramas/ worlds inside). On the desks we move between a school formal, a battleground in France, a street corner and a school oval.
The back wall of the design might be a wood paneled wall that can be opened in surprising places, crawled through in others and even light up as a starry night scape.
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This resource was written by Mrs Katrina Riveros with video by Mr Brad Jennings.