THEATRE / Between the Lines: History lessons: Actress Carol Royle on the contemporary relevance of Shaw's St Joan

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'If only I could still hear the wind in the trees, the larks in the sunshine, the young lambs crying through the healthy frost, and the church bells that send my angel voices floating to me on the wind. But without these things I cannot live, and by your wanting to take them away from me or from any human creature I know that your counsel is of the devil, and that mine is of God.'

From St Joan, Scene VI, by Bernard Shaw

IF YOU are of my generation and have been brought up, as I have, in England, the chances are that you too will have been lucky enough to have personally escaped the experience of war. With the Falklands and then the Gulf, it was unbearable to accept that, as so often in the past, we were fighting again, having learnt so little about its total futility. And with so much unrest, at present, in the world, this quote from Joan of Arc seems to epitomise a number of things to me: that those who will go to any lengths in the name of religion are, actually, getting their messages from elsewhere; that we are removing ourselves more and more from all things natural and therefore from reality; that no human or animal should ever be deprived of what is natural to them for life, and that any person who tells us it is a 'necessary evil' to exploit anything weaker and less able than themselves, for whatever reason, is succeeding in deluding themselves that the essence of life and its powerful forces exist for only a privileged few.

Carol Royle plays Mrs Arbuthnot in 'A Woman of No Importance', playing at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London SW1 (071-930 8800)

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