Annie Callahan writes about how the play’s use of they/them pronouns is a great move forwards for representation

Choosing to reframe Joan of Arc as a non-binary character might seem like a bold move. It shouldn’t. Theatre is art, and art allows us to tell stories and represent identities in many wonderful ways. On August 11, Shakespeare’s Globe announced their new play, I, Joan. In an important and deliberate move for non-binary representation, this version of Joan will use they/them pronouns in the play. 

Joan, who is usually portrayed as female, is a historical figure known for leading the French Army to victory at Orléans in 1429 during the Hundred Years’ War. 

The move to write Joan as a non-binary character, using they/them pronouns, is part of the Globe’s step towards being “equal, inclusive and equitable”. LGBTQI voices are often under-represented or altogether forgotten in theatre, and this production provides a great opportunity to retell the tale of a powerful historical figure, whilst representing the many queer voices who have been erased throughout history. 

Speaking on their creative choices for the piece, The Globe commented in a statement that, “Shakespeare was not afraid to ask difficult questions as he imagined the lives of 1,223 characters; he represented an extraordinary range of diverse perspectives and identities, and we are all still enjoying his work over 400 years later. Shakespeare was not afraid of discomfort, and neither is the Globe”

They continued, saying, “theatres do not deal with ‘historical reality’. Theatres produce plays, and in plays, anything can be possible. That is the role of theatre: to simply ask the question ‘imagine if?’”. 

I, Joan is grabbing headlines as “the most controversial play of the year”, before anyone has even seen it. Some are calling out the play for gender erasure—the exact opposite of what the Globe is trying to achieve by platforming voices of the marginalised non-binary community. 

Leading the cast in the role of Joan is Isobel Thom, a non-binary actor making their professional debut. Following the controversy, Isobel encouraged people to watch the play in a compassionate yet firm statement on Twitter: “Joan is an extraordinary historical figure. Joan is an icon to so many, of any gender, but holds a special significance to women/AFAB [assigned female at birth] people in amongst many others, myself included.”

They continued, “Nobody is taking away your Joan, whatever Joan may mean to you. Nobody is ‘posthumously changing the gender of Joan of Arc’. This show is art: it’s an exploration, it’s imagination, it’s fiction.” 

The play is written by Charlie Josephine, adapting the 14th Century historical story for modern audiences. Directed by Ilinca Radulian, the piece will feature “Joan’s army”, made up of the “Groundlings” – the hundreds of audience members with standing tickets. 

I, Joan runs at London’s Globe Theatre, from 25 August – 22 October. Standing tickets are £5, with seats ranging from £15-£54 and can be purchased at shakespearesglobe.com.

The Globe invites everyone to join them, “with open hearts and raised voices, dance and cheer with us as we rediscover Joan’s story. It’s alive, queer and full of hope.”

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