I doubt you have seen a depiction of Joan of Arc before like the one currently performed at the Ovalhouse by Lucy Jane Parkinson, aka professional drag king LoUis CYfer. She appears in solo show Joan, a Milk Presents production, written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck.
The Ovalhouse is set out in the round, with cabaret seating in the front rows. This gives ample opportunity for Joan to interact with the audience, which she does to great effect. At first, she is disarming when she asks for somebody’s seat and makes them move, to make way for Catherine (Saint Catherine, who appeared to Joan in visions and whose guiding voice Joan heard throughout her life). Then she is funny as she asks to borrow somebody’s phone to phone Catherine to find out where she is. Later still, she asks more and more of us – one man is asked to walk like a man so she can copy his walk; another has to act like a potential mate when her father is trying to marry her off. The whole audience has to get involved in a battle scene: Joan quite naturally gets a crowd of people bellowing like horses, shooting crossbows, stamping their feet, one woman even has to be a canon exploding. I think my section really wowed her with our men’s chanting choir.
The play deals with the question of identity, and gender identity at that, with Joan playing not only the famous ‘Maid of Orléans’ herself, but also three of the men in her life. The first is her father; we see her quick transformation before our very eyes, using one of four full-length mirrors at each corner of the performance space to don cap, jacket and beard. The next male she becomes is the Dauphin Charles, who Joan has gone to meet ready with her big speech. This is the funniest moment in the play, as a discoball appears overhead, and Parkinson as the moustachioed Dauphin delivers a hilarious song whilst gyrating in golden jacket and shorts. ‘Je m’appelle Charles’, he sings, and then gives Joan an army.
This would not work without Parkinson. She is a natural and engaging performer who you can’t take your eyes off. One minute she is describing Catherine’s voice, ‘as if sunrise had a sound’, and Joan’s face lifts up as if in a trance; the next she is talking conspiratorially with the audience whilst fixing a fake beard onto her face, and turning her bra into a bulge in her shorts. At one point I could see that, as she was delivering one of her rousing speeches about not fitting in, an audience member near to her was visibly nodding, identifying with her words.
Joan is an entertaining, accessible way to meet France’s famous female warrior which had me wiping my eyes from both laughter and tears. But more than that, Lucy Jane Parkinson and the skilful writing by Lucy J Skilbeck turns Joan’s herstory into a moving drama of a brave woman whose cross dressing (probably for quite practical reasons) leads her to be burnt at the stake for heresy. For both queer and heterosexual audiences, this is a must-see.
By Hatty Uwanogho