Star of reimagined non-binary Joan of Arc play says Globe show is ‘full of joy, love and hope’

A graphic of a person who is covered in dirt and grime, their chest is bound and they wring their hands. A chainmail helmet covers their eyes. They stand in front of a purple background with text above their head reading I, JOAN in large white letters.

I, Joan lead actor said the Globe production reimagining Joan of Arc as a gender non-conforming hero is ‘full of joy, love, hope, magic and revolution’.

Shakespeare’s Globe theatre will host a new interpretation of the legendary story of Joan of Arc – who was believed to have fearlessly led the French in battles against English soldiers in the Hundred Years War – that explores the saint’s life from a queer perspective. 

synopsis for I, Joan described Joan – who uses they/them pronouns – as a hero “rebelling against the world’s expectations” and “questioning the gender binary” while finding their “power and their belief spreads like fire”. 

Isobel Thom, the non-binary actor who has been cast in the lead role of I, Joan, told NBC News that the production is chock full of “joy and love and hope and magic and revolution”. 

They added it was important to use storytelling and theatre as a means to champion representation for communities that do not traditionally see themselves represented in art. 

“Storytelling and art is a platform to share experiences, to stretch imaginations, to excite and inspire, to explore language, and to represent,” Thom said. “People and communities deserve to be championed, and there’s no limit to the number we can do that for.”

Despite garnering widespread support, critics were quick to voice their discontent with I, Joan with Hadley Freeman, Allison Pearson and more claiming the production is an attempt to “cancel history’s inspirational women”.

Thom said on Twitter that they had heard a “lot of noise” on social media about the production and wasn’t “planning on adding to it” – but they said they weren’t going to back down from championing representation in art. 

“Joan is an extraordinary historical figure,” Thom wrote. “Joan is an icon of so many, of any gender, but holds such a special significance to women/afab people in amongst many others. Myself included.”

They continued: “Nobody is taking historical Joan away from you. 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.”

Thom encouraged people to watch I, Joan before they felt the “need to pass judgments on the contents” of the play. They said seeing the live performance might “clear up some confusion”. 

“If you feel the need to pass judgment on the lives of non-binary and trans people, I would encourage you to pause and try to practice kindness,” Thom added. 

Michelle Terry, the artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe, said in a separate statement that the play isn’t erasing women’s history but is, instead, “simply offering the possibility of another point of view”

“For centuries, Joan has been a cultural icon portrayed in countless plays, books, films, etc,” Terry said. “History has provided countless and wonderful examples of Joan portrayed as a woman.”

She added: “This production is simply offering the possibility of another point of view. That is the role of theatre: to simply ask the question ‘imagine if?’.”

Terry explained theatres “no not deal with ‘historical reality’” but produce plays where “anything can be possible”. She referenced how Shakespeare didn’t “write historically accurate plays” as he “took figures of the past to ask questions about the world around him”. 

“Our writers of today are doing no different, whether that’s looking at Ann Boleyn, Nell Gwynn, Emilia Bassano, Edward II, or Joan of Arc,” Terry said. 

She continued: “The Globe is a place of imagination. A place where, for a brief amount of time, we can at least consider the possibility of world’s elsewhere.”

Terry said theatre is “unequivocally pro-human rights” and stands by trans and non-binary people; black and minority ethnic people and people with disabilities.

She added the theatre’s production of I, Joan was “not the first to present Joan in this way” and said it “will not be the last”. 

I, Joan will open at the Globe Theatre in London on 25 August.