Sunday, 23 November 1997

Pope Joan by Women's Circus, Nov 23, 1997

Pope Joan
By Women's Circus
At Russell St. Police Garage until Dec 6, 1997
Reviewed by Kate Herbert around Nov 22, 1997

If you were a convent gal you will understand how uproariously funny it is seeing 20 nuns teetering on another nun's bottom or upside down, skirt around her ears.

Such is the display of antics in the Women's Circus new production, Pope Joan. The remarkable new Artistic Director, Sarah Cathcart, has developed, through research, a physically based show which explores women and the Catholic religion: women as nuns, convent schoolgirls, witches and - yes - as Pope.

Joan, a member of the Irish Brigidine order of nuns, was incarcerated for questioning the Bishop's edict that women must not celebrate the Eucharist or dance in the church because they are not made in the image of Christ: i.e. 'a bearded Jewish fisherman'.

Joan escaped to Athens then Rome with her lover, a monk. She became a scholar and, in her male guise, the favoured successor to Pope Leo in 853 AD. Unfortunately, the quirky tale goes, she gave birth outside the Colosseum and was stoned to death by angry mob of female-pope-haters.

Cathcart has adapted her own extraordinary performance style to create a deliciously witty and cunningly simple structure which highlights the range of skills of this enormous cast of amateur acrobats of all shapes, sizes and ages. There is a cohesion in this production which has been absent from previous Women's Circus shows. Joan's story is cleverly interwoven with anecdotes from a novitiate nun from the 1950's and from schoolgirls in a Wagga Wagga convent.

The delightful visuals and physical skills create a parallel narrative to the spoken personal stories. Groups of women provide symbolic action and imagery. One of the most powerful scenes depicted the burning of witches as tortured action on trapeze finishing with women dangling by their feet from ropes.

In addition to fifty actors, there is a live band and chorus which provide latin chants and evocative music under the direction of Kim Baston. The simple yet dramatic lighting, designed by Efterpi Soropos, takes advantage of the cavernous space of the Russell Street Garage.

Amanda Owen, Anni Davey (Circus Oz, Club Swing) amongst others women have trained the women. Some have been with the circus for its six years and others are novices but all are integrated into this wonderful community project which is based at the Footscray Community Arts Centre.


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