Spitfire Review: I, Joan

Spitfire Review: I, Joan

I always enjoy going to Shakespeare’s Globe and although I like watching Shakespeare plays I also watch new and alternative performances. Aside from writing, one of my biggest passions is history so when I heard that I, Joan, a retelling of Joan of Arc’s life story, was to be performed at the Globe I immediately brought tickets.

A few weeks later I read a news article lambasting the production. Then I read another hailing it a masterpiece. Everyone seemed to have an opinion on it, despite the fact the I, Joan hadn’t actually premiered yet. Luckily my tickets were at the end of the show’s first week. Here are my thoughts.

Before we begin you need to know the story of Joan of Arc to understand the wider context of this review. Joan of Arc was a French peasant during the One Hundred Years War, after joining the French army as a teenager she lead them to many stunning victories against the English and Joan became a hero to the people. Eventually Joan was betrayed by her superiors and captured by the English who orchestrated a mock trial resulting in Joan being burnt at the stake. Fifteen years later, the original trial was nullified and Joan granted a sainthood by the church. Interestingly, due to her military victories and two trials, historians have more paperwork relating to Joan than they do for any member of the French monarchy.

The show was, of course, brilliant. As it is still being performed I won’t say too much as you may wish to see it yourself, but it involves spoken word poetry, choreographed dance battles and most importantly of all, it’s inspirational. It’s fun, bouncy, upbeat and despite the serious subject matter, full of laughs.

The controversy arises with Joan herself. The production team have chosen to portray Joan as non-binary. If you are unfamiliar with the term, it means that the individual does not identify as either male or female as they don’t feel comfortable with either label. Instead of using he/him or she/her pronouns they prefer they/them. The term non-binary isn’t new, it was first coined in 1990 but has gained recognition with the rise of the LGBTQ+ community.

The issue is, Joan was killed by the English on the grounds that she was a woman in man’s clothing, an act of heresy. Many have argued that stripping Joan of the one quality she is most famous for, her femininity, is disrespectful. Another point has also been raised for the Globe attempting to re-write history to suit modern audiences.

In response to these criticisms, Shakespeare’s Globe have made an official statement which you can read below but I also want to address both of these points myself.


I do not believe that the real Joan of Arc broke the siege of Orléans with a dance battle. The show makes no attempts to state their version as fact. This version of Joan, as stated in the programme and the venue itself, is simply a reimagining, in the same vein that the films Braveheart and Gladiator aren’t historically accurate.

Now let us move on to the main issue, portraying Joan as non-binary. If you read any of the right wing papers you would have seen them in uproar at this decision.

Then again, when aren’t they in uproar?

The fact that Joan is non-binary is one of the main focuses of the play. Throughout the show Joan wrestles with the concept of not being comfortable as either a man or a woman and this comes to a forefront at her trial. During her soliloquies, Joan describes the emotions that many non-binary people experience before they discover the term non-binary. Although our Joan fails to find this term (“the dictionary is unable to capture me”) it is easy to see how many people view her as an icon. She fits most of the criteria as a non-binary person. Please note that I’m not saying that the real Joan of Arc was non-binary I’m saying that she could have been and this is performances is inspired from a “What If” scenario.

It is incredibly interesting to debate which historical figures would identify with our current terminology if they knew the correct terms. Only last week I mentioned in my Camden Fringe review that Julie d’Aubigny, a 17th century French opera singer and socialite, was portrayed as a “flaming bisexual”. Would Da Vinci identify as gay if he knew the word? Where would Lord Byron fall on the sexual spectrum?

The Joan in I, Joan is non-binary for a reason. To inspire others who identify with the term, to remind them that they are not alone. People are complex and contradictory and very very complicated. They are not black and white, good or evil, they are non binary. To quote Joan herself: ‘There’s a whole sky inside of you! I wish we’d all remember that.’

In summary I, Joan is brilliant. Go watch it and see what the fuss is about for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

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