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JOAN: a brand new audiodrama – Review

Joan Image credit Cressida Peever.
Joan – credit Cressida Peever.

Joan, an ‘audiodrama’, has as its central character a teenager (Stephanie Booth) who has the confidence and assertiveness of someone with ambition and their whole lives still ahead of them – and, thankfully for listeners, is not the kind of Angry Young Thing who can only express themselves using expletives. But she is not without fault, relying on Dr Google for medical advice when her mother is diagnosed with hypertension. More dangerously she relies on the internet for a course of action on how to lower it, but this has an unexpected outcome, when she realises quite how much ‘unpaid work’ her mother takes on in terms of chores and other activities.

In short, Joan calls for strike action by women against such unpaid work. The consequences are, of course, potentially catastrophic (imagine, for instance, a single mother leaving a baby upstairs and unfed for an entire day) but the basic idea seems to be to encourage women not to do anything at all without being remunerated. I couldn’t help siding with those who expressed reservations – Joan’s ‘No Pay No Way’ slogan would, taken to its logical conclusion, mean that children would be forced into employment of some kind in order to ‘pay’ their parents for, well, unpaid parenting. No wonder Joan can’t concentrate on her homework. Nobody’s paying her to do it.

Anyway, what began as a local protest mushroomed into a movement, social media being what it is, and against her mother’s wishes (ooh, what a rebel), Joan accepts an invitation to a big protest in central London. (The events in the play occurred ‘BC’: before coronavirus.) While the detailed description of her journey from her home town to London Paddington, and then on to Oxford Circus on the Bakerloo line, were impressively relatable, the account given of the protest itself seemed rather contrived, and more reflective of the mainstream media’s emphasis on pockets of violence at gatherings of this nature, rather than the instances of cooperation and community spirit that usually don’t make for ‘breaking news’.

Still, the young one accepts there is still much she has to learn, and by the end of the play, there are no cut and dry winners from everything that has happened before. Even Joan’s mother, who benefited from increased working hours as demand surged as an indirect consequence of the No Pay No Way campaign, paid a heavy price in other ways as her health took a further tumble.

The narrative could be revised further, but as a production the show has a lot going for it. The sound effects add to the story without overwhelming it, and there’s a belief, if you will, in the script such that it isn’t laced with an overuse of incidental background music. Booth puts in an engaging performance and it was easy to remain interested and invested in the story. And I suppose it is better to have tried and failed than not to have tried in the first place.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

I have this vision of… this amazing vision of all the women laying down the cooking utensils and metal scourers that they’re not paid to carry and leaving it to the men to look after themselves for a change.

Joan feels like she’s destined for something. Something big.
Bigger at least than her current drop-in-the-ocean life of going to school, doing her homework, and dreaming of becoming the kind of person who can change the world. For starters, she’d just like to be able to bring her Mum’s stress levels down.
So she turns to TikTok, and suddenly finds herself leading the charge into battle on a quest to change Mum – and the world – all at the same time.

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