Bigots who don’t wish to see I, Joan at Shakespeare’s Globe because of its decision to make Joan of Arc non-binary are, quite frankly, missing out on a bloody good time. Lead Isobel Thom moves with a thrilling, almost uncontrollable energy – there’s not so much a fire in their belly, rather an inferno.
A fitting phrase given how the legend meets their demise (at least in the history books), and the motif of fire which flows through Charlie Josephine’s vivid script with such freedom and fluidity. The story’s sheer spiritual, transcendental nature is heightened in Jennifer Jackson’s unrestrained choreography, timed to irregular, disobedient rhythms. Even Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s stage refuses to lay straight against the Globe, bending upwards into a halfpipe which cast members confidently slide down throughout the production, often to cheers from those in the audience.
It’s a play which ascends in its abstraction. The God which is believed to have sent Joan a message isn’t directly defined beyond their “calm” interaction with the protagonist and their being a woman, which sparks a shocked response from a literally rigid clergy in all-black. In contrast, Joan is in white overalls, as if of purity or a blank canvas to mould in whatever way they – and, let’s be honest, men like the infantile but hilarious Charles (Jolyon Coy) – sees fit.
Costumes from Laura Rushton come with an exceptional attention to detail – military badges are in the colours of pride flags, the euphoric band wear shirts with the non-binary gender symbol on it, and Joan wears one pink sock and one blue. A show such as I, Joan doesn’t need to be – and, indeed, isn’t – subtle, but there’s no denying the breadth of director Ilinca Radulan’s creative vision.
Ultimately, Joan’s vision is one of self-identity, and that can be interpreted in whatever way one sees fit, not just with the queer, trans lens, but religion, national identity and expression. “God” is whatever one wishes it to be, and the progression of King Charles’ aide Thomas (Romeo and Juliet’s Adam Gillen) from an uncertain guide to a self-assured individual is powerfully performed by Gillen, and a joy to witness.
Essentially, self-identity in the time of Joan of Arc was so policed – and still policed – that to venture outside the manipulative, oppressive model of ‘woman’ was/is to be radical. As a giddy and ecstatic interrogator of society’s limitations, Thom makes a phenomenal professional debut. Almost every line from them is quotable, which is astonishing, but also a tad jarring towards the end of the first act, where it feels like it could have finished one or two scenes sooner.
Yet still, I, Joan is excitingly expansive and ethereal. Its argument about the confines of small words for big ideas like life and love can very much extend to this review. To condense such a phenomenal production into just a couple of hundred words would be a disservice. To compare I, Joan to another production would go against the spirit of a play which seeks to defy expectations and succeeds.
It does, however, feel like the next Emilia for The Globe. An utter smash-hit drawing upon a key historical figure to make a new compelling, fiery case about gender for a modern audience. I, Joan ignites a movement, and you’ll want to be a part of it as it marches valiantly – onwards!
I, Joan is now playing at Shakespeare’s Globe until 22 October.
Signed, audio described, relaxed and captioned performances will take place on 1, 8, 15 and 20 October respectively.
Production Images: Helen Murray.
Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘I, Joan’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this article and all opinions stated above are honest and my own.