I, Joan review: a protest piece and celebration of queer identity

Crashing into The Globe last week, I, Joan is an adaptation of Joan of Arc’s story, and a powerful one. The play begins with Isobel Thom (the actor who plays Joan) delivering a stirring poem about trans and non-binary identity. The reason for this is because, in this retelling, Joan is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. The poem is an excellent launchpad for the rest of the play, in which Joan’s cause to save France is deeply intertwined with their own fight to live and be recognised as their true self in a world where those in power refuse to acknowledge them.

Image from their website

It’s not all struggle though – really at its core, I, Joan is a celebration of queer identity. And one from the heart. On the playwright’s website they lay out a mission statement:

I’m proper passionate about making art that’s honest, visceral, sweaty. Particularly stories that centre working class women and queer people.

Which is exactly what this play is about! Playwright Charlie Josephine uses they/he pronouns themselves and so, from experience, is able to write Joan’s journey to understanding themselves honestly and profoundly. It is truly impressive how Josephine’s writing manages to be so expertly fine-tuned and at the same time so raw and emotive. There is such depth and passion to be found in the script, and the actors interpreted it beautifully. If you’d like to know more about Charlie Josephine, check out this Guardian interview with them or visit their website.

Image from London Theatre

On a personal note, something that I found really compelling about this version of Joan’s story is that although Joan is still driven by God, their God can be interpreted in two ways. Either they really are the Christian God, or they are the personification of our deep-rooted instincts; our gut feelings that let us know what is right and what is wrong. However you choose to see it, either interpretation leads to some very emotional and impactful scenes, especially during times when Joan’s queer entourage decree and rejoice that they too are “so full of God”.

An added nod must go to costume design, specifically concerning the outfits and little details that made Joan’s costumes sing. I was particularly enamoured with the little patch of the trans flag that Joan wears on their bum during most of the second half, and the pink and blue socks they wear during their last scenes. All the choices mirrored Joan’s true identity perfectly.

I, Joan is only on at The Globe during the months of September and October 2022, so grab yourself a ticket before it’s too late! This is an honest, passionate piece you don’t want to miss.

To the naysayers: Shakespeare’s history plays are well-known for their artistic liberty and re-imaginings, so The Globe is the perfect stage for such a play. Also, directors have for decades raised Shakespeare characters from the grave and injected new life into them, transporting them into different times, situations, races, genders, etc. in order to discuss current events, so I, Joan is perfectly in keeping with this philosophy.

More to the point, for centuries scholars have straight-washed LGBTQ+ historical figures, from Gandhi to Alexander the Great, so one re-imagining of Joan of Arc as non-binary, done in an effort to entertain, teach and celebrate, in a country where trans rights are increasingly being quashed and where our own newly appointed prime minister doesn’t recognise trans people, hurts nobody.

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