Review: I, Joan

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A powerhouse of a performance I, Joan directed by is truly a showstopper. Only recently debuting at the Globe, this play is a true mix of an old tale that has been modernised and made extremely relevant to our society today. During The Hundred Years War in France, Joan of Arc (Emma Henderson) visits Charles, soon to be crowned King (Oggy Grieves), asking to lead the French army in the hope of taking the city of Orleans. He agrees, much to the soldiers’ dismay and Joan leads them to victory, which then leads to victory upon victory! The play is filled with monologues from Joan which are addressed to the audience. They are filled with deep emotion as Joan discusses their identity. At its core, the play presents the truths and life experiences of being trans. Expressing the pain of constantly trying to explain yourself. It is a beautiful, heart-wrenching and important piece of theatre.

Henderson owns the stage and is an extremely strong performer

Taking place in the Assembly Rooms Theatre, the end on stage is set with a church-like structure. Upstage is taken up with multiple mini platforms raised to different heights, which the cast interacts with beautifully throughout the play, which gives the space some depth and adds a natural flow to the action. Behind these platforms are oak colour panels, containing cut-outs of crosses and entrances that are replicas of the arch-shaped windows of a church. In the middle of the panels is a little wood tree that completes the set nicely. To look at, the stage is incredibly slick and Moore directs her performers with thought and intention around it. No area feels forgotten and none too cramped. The set fits with the themes of the play too and so enhances and echoes the words as opposed to distracting from them. Aesthetically, this extends to light and costume, the stage is impressive and creative. Stage manager must be congratulated for this glorious set.

Opening with a monologue from Henderson, she establishes a relationship between her character and the audience. Directly addressing us and letting us in on her inner thoughts and feelings which are otherwise hidden behind a tough facade, a sense of honesty and openness fills the auditorium and the audience is hungry for each new word. Henderson should be commended for their memory! I cannot express the length of these monologues and each monologue they deliver is fresh and develops the character of Joan. Their ability to explore tone and mood ensures they never feel repetitive and are a real highlight of the entire play. Mixed with the bloodshed context of the play, these tender and intimate moments are a great relief. Henderson owns the stage and is an extremely strong performer.

The choreography is clever, as the dance does feel like the ensemble is furiously fighting a battle

Grieves is another strong performer and his character is a great comic relief for the audience. Presenting a rather spoilt and childlike King of France, Grieves’ tantrum-esque mannerisms and overdramatic voice bring moments of hilarity. His manipulation of the modern style the text is written in is performed well, and he brings a contemporary feel to his character. who plays a soldier of the king is another standout performer. Again, Jarvis’ comedic talents are impressive, drawing laughter from the crowd with his line delivery. playing Thomas does an impressive job of establishing a warm and caring connection to Joan. Their character dynamic is sweet and heart-warming, with Joan finding comfort and courage in Thomas’ words. Bacon’s performance is natural and softens the harsh moments of the play, adding a great range of mood to the entire performance.

Even though the play is performed naturalistically, there are elements of dance. These mostly take place to depict battle scenes and are led by Joan. The choreography is clever, as the dance does feel like the ensemble is furiously fighting a battle. However, at times they did lack a bit of energy. Sometimes movements became out of time and at times there could have been more dedication. Sometimes transitions and action on stage did become slow and there was a little lack of movement, which slowed down the pace of the show, however this is only a minor point.

Throughout the entire play, the direction comes back to its core message, and Henderson passionately and from the heart, delivers heartfelt monologues about the journey and difficulties of being transgender. Towards the end, she presents Joan’s strength and courage as she faces unimaginable circumstances and treatment, stirring emotion. The team should be incredibly proud of what they have created, it is a truly astonishing piece of theatre.  

Image credit: Durham Student Theatre

One thought on “Review: I, Joan

  • The playwright who wrote “I, Joan” claimed (in interviews etc) that Joan of Arc’s use of soldier’s clothing would make her “non-binary”, but historians have pointed out that: 1) she consistently called herself “the maiden” (“la pucelle”) to link herself to a prophecy about a “maiden from the borders of Lorraine”, which would indicate a female identity beyond any reasonable doubt since the entire point of the prophecy was that this figure would be a girl; and 2) several eyewitnesses said she continued wearing soldier’s clothing in prison so she could keep it “firmly laced and tied together” to prevent her guards from pulling her clothing off when they tried to molest her, since this type of clothing allowed the trousers, hip-boots and tunic to be laced together into a single piece. The trial bailiff, Jehan Massieu, said she was maneuvered into a fake “relapse” (to justify a conviction) when the guards took away her dress and forced her to put the soldier’s clothing back on. She therefore didn’t choose to “die for men’s clothing” as the playwright claims since she was forced into the situation. She also said (during the fourth session of her trial) that she stayed out of the fighting and carried her banner in battle instead, and she denied calling herself a commander, confirmed on both points by eyewitness accounts from people on both sides. Her stated role – in fact her main theme – was that she was a religious visionary (someone who receives visions, in this case from the Archangel Michael, St. Catherine, and St. Margaret), which the play replaces with a different theology by declaring “Trans people are sacred. We are the divine”, which of course was not what she actually said.

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