Shakespeare's Globe, London
Written by Charlie Josephine
Directed by Ilinca Radulian
Reviewed by Isla Beckett
|Isobel Thom and company|
What would Shakespeare think? He wouldn’t, for that is the level of detail afforded by this play. Fancy that. Shakespeare stunned into silence in his very own theatre. O brave new world that has such mockery in it.
I, Joan is based on Joan of Arc’s life, one of the earliest documented feminists. Born in 1412 into poverty, she grew up possessed by a belief that she was channelling God. Convinced of her singularity, she requested a meeting with Charles VII of France, and the rest is history. Joan of Arc helped lead France to triumph against England, motivating a demoralised army and providing strategic input. She was later caught by the enemy and burned at the stake for heresy. Why? Joan reportedly had visions and experienced didactic voices in her head. The same as those that elevated her to the highest ranks of politics. In today’s world, she may have been classed as schizophrenic. In her era, she was deemed a witch. Adding fuel to the fire, she also wore men’s clothes in a defiant act of blasphemy.
For all intents and purposes, Joan was unusual. Her history is rich and colourful, providing a wealth of material for an adaptation of her life. What a thrilling woman to explore. A walking contradiction. A fighter. A rebel. The skin of a lady with the heart of a man. Her vulnerabilities must’ve been fascinating. What a shame, then, that I, Joan deems it more appropriate to use this woman’s voice as a crass political megaphone. The fourth wall is frequently broken by Isobel Thom's Joan, with what follows being almost always a diatribe against pronouns and patriarchy. After a certain point this becomes tiresome, repetitive and pointless. In the unspoken background, Joan of Arc’s story is screaming to be told. We could learn more from her about gender equality than we ever could by being preached to here.
I, Joan crowbars the present into the past, forcing Joan’s narrative to be what it is not. Her tale is not one of complaint but of courage. Not one of bombastic opinion, but devotion to a cause. Joan did not proclaim herself a feminist, she lived the reality and died for it. So focused is the play on the narrator’s own personal beef with society that it falls flat in its depiction of a hero. For just under three hours, the play literally and metaphorically limps along. One has to admire the writer’s audacity for the constant gender-identity outbursts, couched in a plot that spends much of its time focused on a bunch of actors jiggling around the stage to simulate a 15th century war. A messy and uneven work, I, Joan suffers beneath the weight of two competing points of view. Ultimately, it is rendered characterless. Joan is a vessel for protest, but protest is not Joan. Protest does not stir the mind or the emotions. It does not have the capacity to haunt. As in life, in Charlie Josephine's play Joan does not get the justice she deserves.
Runs until 22nd October
Photo credit: Helen Murray