Joan was found at the edge of the woods close to the capital; this much we know. She appears to be about 17, but she does not speak, she does not wear clothes, and no-one knows her history. Studied by scientists, they have little hope she has a future outside of an institution – but great hopes that she holds clues to the nature of humanity. As they try to civilise this wild girl, we witness their different approaches, and begin to understand just what they are willing to try.
Our culture is littered with stories of children raised in the "wild"; from The Jungle Book to Brave New World, we look to those from outside our civilisation to provide answers to what being human truly means. In this performance we watch as three scientists work with Joan, sometimes kind and sometimes cruel. One tries to introduce her to art, dancing and music; another takes care of clothing, washing and comforting her, and the latter's husband, the third scientist, analyses and experiments upon "the subject". They make copious notes and perform numerous tests, but in the end, can they learn what they really want to know?
The actors are remarkably clear even when intentionally talking over each other, delivering both a sense of confusion and the necessary information that their lines impart. The actress playing Joan gives a particularly compelling performance; there is a brilliant canine feel to her posture and expressions. From the very first scene, when we see the two men talking over Joan about complex theories and chemicals, we feel her confusion. Throughout the play we wonder at the histories of all four characters, and while we’re given tantalising hints, we are ultimately left wondering about much of their stories; this is not dissatisfying though, as while we don't know where they have come from, we get a real sense of their hearts and their motives.
On first glance, the piece seems littered with anachronisms: early twentieth-century dress sits alongside plastic green first aid boxes, while barbarically old "treatments" accompany biochemical knowledge of hormones. Perhaps that is the point. The company have clearly researched many historical accounts, and sadly the mistreatment of so-called "savages" is a theme common to every age.
But that’s not the only way I found elements of this piece confusing. While I appreciate that it is designed to be evocative and visceral rather than a straightforward narrative, I still feel some more guidance would be helpful – particularly cluing us in as to whether the scenes lit in yellow are memories, or just action taking place away from Joan's room.
The whole cast give a powerful performance, and potential viewers should be aware that this is an extremely intense look at what makes us human and what we are capable of when we forget others humanity. I found the ether hallucinations particularly disturbing, and noticed that others found the exploration of love rather too raw for them. But that is the nature of this work; it makes you feel, and puts you together with Joan in a confusing world.