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September 12, 2022

A Conversation with Playwright Charlie Josephine


Charlie Josephine’s play I, Joan, described by the Evening Standard as “an expansive, unifying and overall joyful piece of work”, is a powerful and joyous retelling Joan of Arc’s story. We caught up with the author to discuss their works, writing process and also the specially curated collection of Monologues for ‘Others’.

First of all, congratulations on the success of your new play, I, Joan, currently playing at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Thank you!

What inspired you to reimagine the iconic story of Joan of Arc?
It was the director, Ilinca Radulian, who had the idea to make a play about Joan. Then I was asked to write it. My first creative challenge was working out how to talk about God. I’m not religious and I think most of our audience won’t be. So I wanted to express a divinity that’s non-denominational and easily accessible to everyone. I knew I needed to write in a very specific way for that particular theatre, with the sky open above us and the democratic gig-like standing audience, and all the wood resonating with sound. I knew I’d write with one foot in medieval France and one foot in London 2022. Then the more I researched Joan, the clearer it became to me that they’re what we’d now call nonbinary or trans, contemporary language for an ancient experience.

What was your process on researching the history of Joan of Arc? And what were the challenges to make the historical figure resonate with contemporary audiences?
Reading, watching, listening, basically becoming mildly obsessed with them! And getting frustrated with the male gaze view of Joan. And wanting to write from inside of them rather than looking at them. And getting furious and heartbroken with the version of history we’re taught – white, cis, straight, middle class. Then daring myself to grab this opportunity with two hands, and be brave and be honest. Daring myself to write the big “what-if” questions. Having one hand in the classical story telling tool box, and one hand playing with more of a queer gaze. Transphobia is violent in the UK right now, and I couldn’t ignore that in the writing. I wanted to write something joyful and angry and fuelled by love.

I, Joan is a joyous celebration of non-binariness and queerness. How important is it for you to see that representation on stage?
Vital. I was hungry for it, and know others are too.

What do you want audiences to take away from the show?
I hope it fuels some young queer kid. I really needed to see something like this when I was growing up. So I hope I’m offering that for someone. I hope trans and queer and nonbinary people enjoy the celebration of their identity and feel proud and fizzy about it. I hope cis and straight people come away a little wiser and a little kinder. I hope everyone enjoys it.

Would you consider reimagining another historical figure? Who and why?
I’m working on a new big play for Headlong that may have one foot in a historical era, yeah. It’s fun to reclaim history. I enjoy the epic scale of it. You can be really brave with big images and playful with the language.

What motivated you to write Monologues for ‘Others’?
I’ve been complimented on the speeches I’ve written in plays, and people have been messaging for years now to say they’re using bits of my writing for audition speeches. Which with my history, and the reason I started writing, makes me grin so wide. Moving to Concord felt like the right time to publish this collection. I hope they make your body fizzy, I hope they get you all the jobs, I hope your flowers bloom.

Do you have any advice for theatremakers looking to stage or perform I, Joan or Monologues for ‘Others’ in future?
Have fun with it! Enjoy the poetry mixed with the colloquial language. Embrace the working class voice and the queerness if that’s appropriate for you to do so. Find the chinks in the armour that show the vulnerability, let us see you.

Are there any particular playwrights or theatremakers who have inspired your writing and the kind of work you want to make?
Alice Birch, Debbie Tucker Green, Chris Thorpe and Kae Tempest are all writers that inspire me. Then Breach Theatre, Theatre Centre, Outbox Theatre, anything with Sophie Melville in it. I want to make work that’s visceral and sweaty and centres the body rather than some cerebral understanding of a concept. I want to make work that puts working class women and queer people front and centre.

For more information about purchasing the scripts of I, Joan or Monologues for ‘Others’, visit the website of Concord Theatricals UK.