Joan of Arc, the ‘queerest fish’
As I mentioned in my earlier post, the playwright George Bernard Shaw wrote the eponymous role of Saint Joan specially for Sybil Thorndike, and she didn’t disappoint in her performances. She appeared in the play countless times on stages throughout the world to great acclaim.
This hardback edition of Saint Joan, published by Constable in 1925, is signed in fountain pen by the great classical actress, and is a fine piece of theatrical memorabilia. The book is noteworthy for its extraordinarily long preface (running to no fewer than 53 pages!) written by Shaw.
Joan of Arc was, he opines, “the most notable Warrior Saint in the Christian calendar, and the queerest fish among the eccentric worthies of the Middle Ages.” At eighteen, he continues, her pretensions were “beyond those of the proudest Pope or the haughtiest emperor… As her actual condition was pure upstart, there were only two opinions about her. One was that she was miraculous: the other that she was unbearable.”
Saint Joan opened at the New Theatre in London on 26th March 1924 with Sybil Thorndike (of course!) in the title role. By then she was already 40, and she continued to play the part for another 20 years. The production was directed by her husband, Lewis Casson, with ‘input’ from Shaw.
Other notable Maids of Orleans have included Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Jean Seberg, Imelda Staunton, Frances de la Tour and (in the unforgettable production I saw at the National Theatre) Anne-Marie Duff.