The Rabble brings Joan to town, plans ‘radical feminist’ take on James Joyce

The experimental feminist work of The Rabble has won praise across the country for more than a decade but, until now, their work hasn’t been presented in Adelaide.

Incredibly, the upcoming Adelaide season of The Rabble’s Joan at Vitalstatistix’s base in Port Adelaide will be the first time a production by the Melbourne group has been shown locally. But they have had an association with local organisation Vitalstatistix for a number of years, as The Rabble participated in an incubator residency at Vitals in 2015 and Vitals artist Meg Wilson was The Rabble’s lead intern in 2016.

Now, a partnership with The Rabble and Vitals will officially begin, as Vitalstatistix will not only house The Rabble’s acclaimed Joan — called “visionary theatre” by Alison Croggon in The Monthly — but also development workshops of their Ulysses co-production.

“We’ve had this conversation about doing a multi-year partnership,” says Vitalstatistix’s director Emma Webb. “This would not only introduce Adelaide audiences to The Rabble but also make a new work with them and create opportunities for more South Australian artists to connect and work with them.”

The Rabble is Emma Valente and Kate Davis. The duo and their collaborators reimagine familiar figures and stories with women’s voices and a female aesthetic. Joan of Arc is one such figure. The story of the teenager who led French forces against the English during the 100 Years’ War has been famously retold many times by men in film and literature.

Image of Joan from The Rabble

“I think everyone in the company has quite a different relationship to Joan of Arc, some of us really idolised her as young women,” Valente says of Joan of Arc. “She was certainly someone I always knew about, and always wanted to know more about. I read the George Bernard Shaw play and I saw the films. I think a lot of people my age had a relationship with her because of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, as one of the only historical female figures in that film. When I started researching her for this project, I kept being reminded that she was only a 19-year-old girl and what a miracle it was that she survived history. There are so many examples of women who haven’t survived history.”

The Rabble’s four-act production of Joan stars four performers who, according to Valente, “take on the role of Joan at any given moment”. Valente says this feeds into the “idea of how Joan isn’t housed in the one body with the one set of features — that this figure of Joan can be multiple and switch between bodies”.

“We are really exploring the idea that she has been an icon that many, many different people have attached to,” Valente says. “She’s a religious figure, a feminist figure, a Marxist figure, she’s important to a lot of people. But somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten she’s 19 and put through a horrifying ordeal: kept in prison and burnt for being a heretic. We wanted to open that up and open the multiplicity of possibilities of what she might be and what her voice was and what she sounded like. The fact is: we don’t even know what she looks like and to try and remember that, as opposed to retelling a tale that’s been retold over and over again.”

Production image from a performance of Joan

Webb says Joan is an “incredibly powerful work” especially in the context of the “conversations that are happening around women’s experiences of violence in the workplace, the home and on the streets”.

Joan, the show, speaks to that public conversation in quite a powerful way,” Webb says. “The Rabble really are extraordinary in the way they remake familiar stories with a contemporary feminist outlook, that’s certainly the case with this work.”

Aside from Joan, The Rabble and Vitalstatistix are developing a “pretty radical feminist take on Ulysses” according to Valente, which they hope to present in early 2020. A series of development workshops based on the epic text by James Joyce will be held in July.

“We are looking at the space this book takes up in the modernist canon, it is so revered and so few people have actually read it,” Valente says. “We are looking at women’s relationship to intellectualism and the canon.”

Joan
Tuesday, July 17 to Sunday, July 22
Waterside, 11 Nile St, Port Adelaide
vitalstatistix.com.au/projects/joan

Photography: David Paterson

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