‘Don’t think I’m going to tell you a story of suffering, a story of unhappiness and being a victim,’ begins this impressive new play from the National Theatre of Scotland. Of course, what follows is full to the brim with intense suffering – but it’s tempered by hope, bravery and moments of real beauty.
With just photographs from her past for company on stage, acclaimed playwright and performer Jo Clifford, whose story this is, recounts the long journey that takes her from a boy named John to the woman she is today. Being a child in the 1950s, when words like transgender didn’t exist, left her feeling ‘unspeakable’ and completely alone, and at times the shame and fear threaten to overwhelm her fragile sense of self. There are dark moments – quite literally, in a gut-wrenching scene in the basement of a New York theatre – but strength is found by being out in the light, by refusing to hide.
Clifford shares her story with unflinching honesty. There’s anger and a steely determination behind her gentle delivery, and plenty of humour too. But it’s the compassion she shows for her younger self that is particularly poignant, as she tries to comfort and reassure the bewildered schoolboy and lonely young man she once was. This is an intimate and very personal work, but its message of courage and self-belief has universal resonance.
Words: Judy Diamond
Picture: David Monteith Hodge
Eve, Traverse Theatre, Aug 8-27 (not 14, 21), times vary