Review: JOAN OF LEEDS

IN BRIEF History hijacked in funny and enjoyably racy alt-Xmas show.

Its Christmas and what better expression of the festive holiday than enjoying a show about…rampant lesbian nuns.

Breach company have chosen the recently discovered true story of Joan of Leeds to present through their alter-egos the Yorkshire Medieval Players; they are a slightly ragged group of “professional enthusiasts” more used to presenting the mystery plays, who have been asked to come up with a Christmas show.

In 14th century Yorkshire, Joan was a lusty young woman assigned to a nunnery where she caused all kinds of disturbances, finally faking her own death and going “on the run”.

Cue lots of bickering and noises off as the troupe clamber through this story which plays enjoyably fast and loose with the story outline and particularly the (historically unknown) ending, as the cast revolt and present a high-energy musical finale with a positive, liberation theme.

The five-strong actor/musician cast all work hard and effectively, with great singing voices, and the script by Ellice Stevens and Billy Barrett (who also directs) doesn’t waste any time.

Bryony Davies is memorable as young, lustful Joan, her deadpan look and attitude are a joy to behold. Alex Roberts is never more memorable than as the grass snake/devil in a terrifying lime green one legged catsuit and a seventies handlebar moustache. Laurie Jamieson’s buttocks appear with alarming regularity but he gets the most out of some of the less colourful characters. Rachel Barnes has an impressive vocal range and quality, despite her best moment being up a ladder. And Olivia Hirst is delightfully stick-dry as the schoolmistressy type leader (“This is what they’ve come to see” she mutters, ousting another from centre-stage).

The show is a tight squeeze onto the Diorama’s stage, but its makeshift look is part of its charm.

The audience hooted and howled, stamped and cheered, and generally we all had a great time.

Prehaps Breach might have started an alternative panto trend? I do hope so.

JOAN OF LEEDS runs at the New Diorama, London until 21st December. Details and tickets here


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