I’m not alright, but that’s alright? “I am Joan” review by Claire de Sully, Strode Theatre May 19th, 2017.

In her book Wilful Blindness, Margaret Heffernan (entrepreneur, chief executive and author) says “All that evil needs to flourish is for good people to see nothing – and get paid for it”.

And so it goes: Child abuse in the Catholic Church, Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews and other groups, reckless subprime mortgage lenders that brought the world’s financial system to the brink and the Rochdale child trafficking ring (recently dramatised on BBC1), all share a simple fact:

“It was not harm that was invisible to any, but harm that so many chose to ignore.”

Margaret Heffernan’s book, Wilful Blindness, is trying to get to the bottom of why we keep on keeping ourselves in the dark.  Viv Gordon is not keeping herself in the dark, nor her audience for that matter, as she tours her one-woman show: I am Joan.

Through comedy, live music, dance, movement and the stories of resilient women (who happen to share Joan as their first name) we see Viv Gordon from the inside out. She tells us that even when you aren’t feeling alright, you will still smile to all around you as that is what everyone expects, and then you will smile a little bit harder, grit teeth, grimace.

Margaret Heffernan says we take comfort from having our world view unchallenged by those around us, this can make us not question, we become submissive.

Viv Gordon, on the other hand, chucks red rubber balls at the audience – metaphorically proclaiming: “I am not fucking alright, but that’s alright too”.  Viv Gordon is a survivor of sexual abuse, she is also quite brilliant, a writer, actress, dancer, comedienne and she can even do a magic trick or two.

Viv tells us all about various inspiring Joans, from Joan Jett, Joan of Arc, Joan Colins, with supporting Joans –  Joan Rivers, Joan Baez, Joan Armatrading.  Viv Gordon’s uses her Joans as a means of self-empowerment, self-belief and resilience.

Joan Jett for instance was the first woman to thrash her guitar like the boys do, she rose to fame with her band then to be rejected by 23 record companies when she went solo.  She sets up her own record label, doing it her way, and went on to sell 20 million records while sticking two fingers up to the 23 record companies that rejected her on her way back up.

I am Joan isn’t didactic, it is funny, truthful, moving, thought-provoking. You can be laughing along then feeling intensely sad in the very same moment. The show makes a difficult subject matter of surviving sexual abuse into something you could (and should) look straight at, seeing the person, seeing the complexities, feeling empathy.  What is the alternative? To keep it all in the dark, to know people have experienced such a trauma, to not to think about it, turn a blind eye?

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