Shakespeare’s Globe has opened its new production of I, Joan, with theatre critics starting to file their reviews.
The show runs at the Globe in rep until 22 October 2022.
This retelling of Joan of Arc’s story is written by Charlie Josephine (Bitch Boxer) and directed by Ilinca Radulian, who co-directed the Globe’s 2019 production of Richard III in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse.
The cast is led by recent graduate Isobel Thom as Joan, and Jolyon Coy as Charles. They are joined by Esmonde Cole, Natasha Cottriall, Janet Etuk, Adam Gillen, Debbie Korley, Kevin McMonagle, Baker Mukasa, Jonah Russell, and Anna Savva.
In the play, men are all fighting, again. An endless war. From nowhere, an unexpected leader emerges. Young, poor, and about to spark a revolution. This is Joan. Rebelling against the world’s expectations, questioning the gender binary, Joan finds their power and their belief spreads like fire.
In this production Joan is gender fluid and uses the pronouns ‘they/them’, which caused some debate in the press and on social media.
More reviews to follow.
I, Joan reviews
"A gender-fluid revolutionary for our times"
"It is a tribute to Josephine’s stirring, questioning and incendiary work that Ilinca Radulian’s superbly engaging production rises above such negative advance attention. Josephine and Radulian understand that theatre at its best is an arena for debate."
"Together they and Isobel Thom, making a tremendous professional debut in the title role, give us a heroic, multidimensional Joan — forthright and fierce, at first surprised by then gradually and fully claiming power, impulsive and impatient, vulnerable yet rabble-rousing. This is a Joan for our times, a young person discovering who they are to the extreme of being willing to die for it, as much out of self-belief as devotion to God — whether that deity is defined in the text as “she” or “the truth”."
"... ultimately the show belongs to Thom, in a portrayal of a gender-fluid revolutionary that seems at once politically charged and yet deeply personal."
"Too little at stake for this 21st-century Joan of Arc"
"The idea of Joan as trans is a fertile subject for drama and discussion, but Charlie Josephine's play comes across as desperately thin"
"Isobel Thom, a trans performer, lends Joan a febrile, wide-eyed confusion as they increasingly buck against what they perceive to be the limitations of their female body and growing conviction that something within them doesn’t fit. One of the most powerful and poignant moments is a scene in which Joan confesses to their best friend and only ally Thomas (a movingly tormented misfit, played beautifully by Adam Gillen) that no words have yet been written to describe who they think they are."
"There are a lot of references here to bravery and courage. But as a piece of drama, at heart this Joan is weirdly toothless."
"Charlie Josephine’s play is a joyous celebration of non-binary identity told aa tongue in cheek take on the story of Joan of Arc"
"... Josephine’s largely joyous romp is about as much an earnest historical character study as the film ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’."
"It is camp as Christmas and knowingly so, with Thom’s Joan the archly anachronistic ringleader, Jolyon Coy on amusing form as bored, shambolic French king Charles XII, and the whole thing blessed with a delightful set from Naomi Kuyck-Cohen..."
"‘I, Joan’ is a gleeful celebration of non-binariness, grafted on to a tongue-in-cheek hop skip and a jump through the life and times of Joan of Arc."
" Joyful and unifying, this could be something of a game-changer"
"Charlie Josephine’s play is too subtle for a hot culture-war take"
"It features an astonishing, star-making professional debut from non-binary actor Isobel Thom as a goofy, charismatic Joan, at the head of a tight ensemble. Ilinca Radulian’s production deftly fuses text, music, movement and design, and exploits the unique dynamic at the Globe between actor and audience. Overall, it feels like a bit of a game-changer."
"The pace slows in the second half. The tone gets more discursive and Joan’s trial by 42 clerics, twittering like angry penguins, becomes repetitive until their galvanizing breakout speech. Radulian could usefully have trimmed the nearly three-hour running time by 20 minutes or so. Yet for all that, this is a thrilling piece of theatre – a new take on the story that doesn’t invalidate any past or future versions of Joan, or sideline women in any way."
"Lusty rallying cry for equality"
"I, Joan review“Lusty rallying cry for equality”
"Part queer fantasia, part protest march, part ecstatic dance-floor celebration, Charlie Josephine’s play reframing the legend of Joan of Arc as a story of non-binary heroism is a lusty rallying cry for love, pride, equality and acceptance."
" It is, at close to three hours, baggy and repetitive, and there are some audibility issues. Its polemic is more often blunt and declamatory than dramatically integrated. But its unruliness is a feature, not a bug, its defiance of structural and formal principles as much an intentional rejection of convention as Joan hacking off their long hair with a broad sword."
"Non-binary Joan of Arc proves a rousing protest piece"
"Isobel Thom gives a visceral, courageous performance as France’s patron saint, brought into the modern day by Charlie Josephine’s joyous production"
"It is a joyous few hours directed by Ilinca Radulian. On Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s stretched-out wooden ramp set, actors slide and climb as if they were in a playground."
"With the risk of wind, rain and loudly passing aeroplanes at the Globe, I, Joan is performed with kinetic vigour. Ignore the Twitter storm – this politically charged sensation is a much-needed whirl."
"Funny, fierce non-binary Joan of Arc proves sceptics wrong"
"The Globe’s much-publicised production of Charlie Josephine’s new play is no gender studies lecture but a rousing piece of theatre"
"The combination of Thom’s charm and energy and Josephine’s script keep the play from feeling preachy."
"“F*** your historically accurate,” Joan shouts. The hollers that respond are of an audience profoundly moved, seeing themselves on stage for the first time."
"A gender-fluid Joan of Arc? Pull the other one"
"It’s not a bad idea, but do we really need battle scenes that look like Zumba sessions, modern dress and swearing?"
"Here is a Joan who stoically endures arrow wounds yet takes umbrage — right, that’s it, I’m off to burn at the stake — because courtiers will not use her preferred pronouns. Pull the other one."
"Isobel Thom’s non-binary Joan of Arc blazes on to the stage in Charlie Josephine’s eye-opening new play"
"“Non-binary finery”: I would count it worth going to I, Joan for that phrase alone. To see and hear it translated into movement, shape, colour, sound and gesture is to be part of a remaking of the stage, an explosion of new life."
"There is no better place to see someone making themselves up than in the theatre. You can be with a character step by step, and the self-discovery is wraparound, extending beyond an individual actor. All elements are vibrantly rethought in Ilinca Radulian’s production."
"This is clearly not the definitive Joan — it is a Joan: a dramatic character, a version, an exploration. It’s a reminder that the story has been told and shaped by playwrights many times before. It’s a “what if?” that seeks to reconsider history and whose stories get told. It’s also a joyous and celebratory piece of theatre, defined by a generous and inclusive spirit that, on opening night, had the audience bouncing with delight."
"I, Joan is not all po-faced politics"
"... let’s face it, the Catholic warrior who cut off her hair and dressed like a man is probably ripe for re-interpretation."
"This retelling, thankfully, is no po-faced diatribe. Ilinca Radulian’s rousing production has actors sliding gleefully down a curved wooden wall on to the stage."
"Central, though, is Thom’s extraordinary professional stage debut as a Joan who thrills at the victory in battle against the English (‘Is this what it feels like to be a man?’) yet is horrified at the death toll. When offered an awful party frock for the victory celebrations, Joan’s revulsion is palpable."
"Non-binary actor Isobel Thom makes theatre history"
"The Globe has made history by casting a trans actor in a lead role for the first time. In Charlie Josephine's new play, non-binary Isobel Thom plays the 16-year-old peasant girl who led the French army and gave a bloody nose to the English at the siege of Orléans in 1429."
"The first half is exuberantly theatrical and Thom is the firecracker at its centre."
"Alas, the second half descends into polemic in which Joan adopts a hectoring tone to address the audience, the theme of gender identity overwhelming a narrative that was shallow to start with."