The Malta Independent 20 October 2018, Saturday

Importing Joan

Tuesday, 15 May 2018, 09:49 Last update: about 6 months ago

The award-winning drag king show JOAN is flying into Malta from the UK in just under two weeks – and tickets are selling fast. Here we meet Tyrone Grima, the local producer who spotted the show in Edinburgh and just knew he had to import it.

There are shows that - quite simply - grab you by the guts and reel you in. For some of us it's musicals, for other dramas, and for others still its slightly off-the-wall cabaret shows performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.

"The story of our relationship with JOAN dates back two years," smiles Tyrone Grima, who's well known for both his directing and theatre production experience locally. "My husband (then my partner) Chris and I were at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and we watched JOAN by accident - we hadn't planned on watching it, and we were completely taken by surprise by it; so much so that we decided then and there that we wanted to bring it to Malta."

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A day later, Tyrone and Chris emailed MilkPresents - the UK company behind the performance - and, within days, were in contact and planning ahead. "The one sticking point was the financial aspect," Tyrone says. "It's expensive to bring a show over. So we eventually applied for funding through the Creative Communities strand of the Malta Arts Fund and were thrilled to receive a positive response. Once that was sorted, JOAN was officially on its way!"

Tyrone and Chris decided to produce JOAN under the remit of Drachma LGBTI - an NGO that focuses on integrating spirituality with sexual orientation, and which Chris coordinates. There are two branches of it, the LGBTI section, and the section for the parents of LGBTI children.

"Although it is essentially Christian in its approach, Drachma embraces all forms of religions," Tyrone continues. "Over the years it has helped many people to integrate two important aspects of their personality, and has also brought to Malta a number of big-shots in LGBTI Theology, including James Alison, Jeanine Grammick and Margaret Farley. JOAN fits perfectly with Drachma's ethos as it explores the issue of gender, defying gender binary, and spirituality through one of the most fascinating characters in history. Plus it's great fun!"

Asked about the spiritual side of the show, Tyrone explains that this emerges strongly in the last scene. "I won't go too much into detail about it as I don't want to ruin the surprise," he says. "But that last scene is very strong. It strips the character of Joan (which will be played by UK-based award-winning drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson) down to its bare essentials, showing the vulnerability of human nature and raising questions about the spiritual nature in all of us. It is done in such a clever way that it resonates equally with atheists and believers. It is never dogmatic or fundamentalist, but is daring while still being respectful in its entertainment. It is a piece that strikes more than one chord."

And there is no denying that JOAN is a show that also tackles the important question of how people bridge the gap between spirituality and being gay - which Tyrone addresses by stating that he believes many gay people express their spirituality. "Of course, they express it in different ways," he says. "What certain people find difficulty in is integrating their spirituality within a religious framework. To be honest, that's not surprising. Religious institutions have not always been embracing towards non-conformists, and certainly not understanding. I think the scenario is improving, though, both locally and internationally. The Church is becoming more inclusive, although the reactionary and conservative side tends to be too strong. I also believe that, when the Church emphasises its conservative side, it is failing to be genuine. Catholicism was always meant to be radical and revolutionary. Drachma's contribution locally and internationally was, and still is, to show that it is possible, if one desires, to be LGBTI, in the full sense, and to be Catholic, in the full sense, and these two aspects do not contradict each other. JOAN can be read in exactly the same way. Joan of Arc (on whom the story is based) was not afraid to be who she was. She did not wait for society to change: in a certain sense, she changed it herself, and was brave enough to go against the waves. This play celebrates this bravery and invites us to be brave too!"

And on top of all that, JOAN is also very funny - and Tyrone believes local audiences will love the cabaret aspect, too. "Lucy sings on stage, applies her make-up, changes costumes, and more; her energy is amazing. The interactive element is also entertaining and, once again, achieved in a very clever way. We're not particularly familiar with drag kings in Malta, so I have no doubt the show will be intriguing too, and ground-breaking in its own way. There are plenty of surprises packed into this one-hour package. There's never a dull moment!" he promises.

 

Joan will be performed as part of the Spazju Kreattiv programme at the St James Theatre on 25-27 May, and is supported by Arts Council Malta - Creative Communities. Tickets are available at www.kreattivita.org. Three free workshops are also being organised by the MilkPresents team from the UK, and further information is available by searching for 'Joan: Workshops' on Facebook.

 

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