Playwright and performer Jo Clifford embarks upon a dreamy trip into her own past
‘Eve’, by Jo Clifford and Chris Goode, caps a stylistically diverse but tightly-themed Trav 2 programme about identity and gender. It's a programme that perhaps doesn’t contain a truly great new play but certainly feels like a stimulating whole, greater than the sum of its parts.
A National Theatre of Scotland, 'Eve' is an autobiographical work in which trans woman, playwright and performer Clifford looks back on her life, in most cases from a great distance – she is 67 and a woman now; in the black and white photos we see at the start she is a little boy in shorts.
It’s a stately, atmospheric piece, filled with memorable stories and startling lines (‘I never wanted to make love to an attractive woman, I wanted to be that woman, and that was enough to keep me turned on forever’).
For all that, Clifford forgoes what one might call a conventionally engaging performance style in favour of a treacly, repetitive cadence as she peers back into the depths of her past.
There is something beautifully dreamy about director-designer Susan Worsfold’s production and the way Clifford interacts with Seth Hardwick’s projected photographs, which appear on Worsfold’s elegant, flexible set, which one minute appears to be translucent glass, the next a mirror.
And there is a poignant sense of time: the photos somehow look older than they really are, like we’re staring back into the Edwardian era, not the ’50s. And there is something desperately poignant about the yawning chasm of years between Clifford and her beloved mum, who died when she was a schoolboy already smarting from the pain of separation imposed by boarding school. Yet it’s also a show about accepting of your past, regardless of your present: ‘I know what it is to be a man; I know what it is to be a woman too; I have no time for shame.’
The problem for me was that the production – no matter how ravishing – feels like it makes the vivid text wade through glue, and even the punchiest lines struggle against Clifford’s repetitive, detetached intonation. It reads well on the page and the production is gorgeous, but in practice the two things seem to run counter to each other. It dampens its own blows, albeit it does so beautiful.