Joan finally offers the lesbian cross-dressing community the hero it deserves. Lucy Jan Parkinson's Maid of Orleans is wiser, stronger and bolder than ever: a medieval rock-star defying gender norms and heteronormativity with fake beards, radiant musical numbers, tragic monologues and candid humour. The audience's buoyant laughs, tense silences and rhythmic claps shape the perfect tempo for Joan at the vibrant Marlborough Theatre. Brighton's leading LGBT artistic venue is saturated with positive vibes and the dynamic crowd you would expect during Fringe season: the perfect atmosphere for a show that masters the balance between touching soliloquies and energetic audience interaction.
It takes me and the rest of the spectators less than a minute to fall in love with Parkinson's genuine and playful sense of humour. The laughter begins as she asks one of the audience members to get up, then proceeds to take their chair – "it's reserved to (Saint) Catherine". Established from the very beginning, the references to the original Joan of Arc story are clever, although not always easily understandable. However, all of my scepticisms about the use of a historical character to present a contemporary approach to gender expression are proved wrong. The fusion of Parkinson's drag king persona with a fresh interpretation of Joan of Arc's naïve yet valiant character contributes to create a multidimensional, powerful, relatable, and straightforwardly funny character.
The contagiously cheerful musical performances and the almost instant cross-dressing enchants me: Joan challenges gender norms in the most spectacular way. The lyrical and more tragic parts of the play are substantial, but not as remarkable as its cabaret elements. However, I appreciate many aspects of its writing, especially the symbolic value of the characters described by Joan. Their function in the narrative is clear and creates an interesting analogy with contemporary society. Each one of them seems to represent a crucial figure in the human experiences of oppression, growth and self-acceptance, uniting performer and audience in a singular emotional bond.
Joan is not only ingenuous in its genre-hybrid narrative, but also in its sincere approach to themes that are too often treated in an excessively dramatic and overly intellectual way. It is an overall incredibly creative and hearty play that is able to successfully spark reflections and genuine delight.