@ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, on Mon 1 Feb 2016
(part of Manipulate Festival)

(NB: Performance is work-in-progress)

Manipulate are this year presenting their ninth Festival, celebrating innovative international visual theatre and animated film. Alongside their programme of UK premieres, awards and even a conference, they also play host to a series of works in progress. Snapshots: Artists@Work is incorporated within the programme with the aim of nurturing the development of new Scottish work. Designed to give a flavour of different explorations and experiments in performance, these short evening events give an insight into the creative processes of leading artists… and what’s even better is that they’re free.

Keep the Cross High is one such work-in-progress performance in this year’s Manipulate programme, written by Francesca Caprioli and featuring Italian actress Eleonora Pace and Royal Conservatoire of Scotland graduate, Laura Wooff. Taking inspiration from the trial of Joan of Arc, this 40 minute excerpt is a powerful meditation on faith, religion, grief and performance itself.

Both actresses take on the role of Joan, taking it in turns to play out key parts of her life. Although they cover a lot of moments within a short timeframe, the play avoids any kind of potted history. What we’re given instead are powerful extracts from Joan of Arc’s life, examining the incidents and motivations that brought her to trial.

Though the performance is only an excerpt, it is not lacking in a finished theatrical aesthetic; lighting, sound and props are utilised beautifully throughout the performance. Notably, paper is used to create different objects – origami birds, swords and even masks – to be used as props, costume and sometimes to add atmosphere. As a piece of paper is crumpled and torn, the sound of crackling fire develops cleverly from the crackling and crumpling sounds of the paper.

What really holds this performance together, though, are the performances of Wooff and Pace. Both are captivating performers and they bring the moments from history to life in such a powerful way. As Pace describes an incident from Joan’s childhood, her feet pound out a steadily increasing rhythm, thundering towards a frenzied climax that not only alludes to the tragic end of the story but is also hugely moving.

This excerpt of a performance is a highly intriguing one. Not only did it satisfy in its shortened form but it left questions about what this work will be like once it has been further developed. Hopes are high for the conclusion of this piece, but it’s hard to see how we could be disappointed.