What are the stories we should tell on our stage- Jo Clifford

21st July. My Gospel According To Jesus Queen of Heaven is being performed at a Festival in Garanhuns, in north Brazil.

 

The theme of the Festival is “Long Live Freedom”!

 

But as soon as the company were invited, the mayor objected. The Bishop objected. The evangelical churches objected. This is a Christian town, they said, and we don’t want a play that insults our faith.

 

So the invitation was withdrawn. And the artists in the city were so angry at this they did a crowd funding to pay for the company to come.

 

And then a judicial ruling came that because Brazil is a secular state and guarantees freedom of speech the festival was breaking the law in withdrawing the invitation. They had to reinstate it and face a fine.

 

So on the 21st July there were two performances: one crowd funded, one as part of the festival.

 

The threats the company had received had been so extreme that Renata Carvalho, the actress, Natalia Mallo, the translator and director, and the stage crew all had to be protected by armed guard.

 

And the audience searched as they came in for guns and knives.

 

The first performance went off peacefully. And then a smoke bomb was lobbed into the theatre.

 

Ad then, just as the house was about to be opened, an injunction came, obtained by the city’s association of evangelist preachers, for the show to be banned.

 

The guards turned against the company and tried to stop the audience coming in. Renata broke open the doors and invited the audience to occupy the space.

 

Natalia tore up the injunction.

 

The show began.

 

An armoured van turned up full of armed police. They forced the audience to stand and removed the seats.

 

Renata kept on.

 

They cut the lights. Renata kept on.

 

They cut the sound. Renata kept on.

 

They removed the awning that protected everyone from the rain. Renata kept on.

 

Effectively, they dismantled the theatre. By the end, Natalia was singing the soundtrack.

 

And Renata was performing in pitch darkness.

 

Going to see this play in Brazil just now is a political act of defiance.

 

Performing it is an act of heroism.

 

15th September. I perform my EVE in Nairn. Nairn is a respectable town with a largely respectable audience. I am warned they tend to fidget, and then the seats squeak.

 

But no-one fidgets, and there is not a squeak. Instead the sniffs which signal people are crying.

 

I am told they are not demonstrative in Nairn, and no-one ever stands to applaud.

 

But a lot of them do stand.

 

20th September. Me and the National Theatre of Scotland have taken EVE to the theatre Marilia, in Belo Horizonte, where we perform the show as part of the International Theatre Festival.

 

On the 20th and 21st the theatre is absolutely full. And an intensely attentive silence is only broken by the sound of people crying.

 

Absolutely everyone stands the minute the lights go down.

 

And for the next few days I keep bumping into people who rush up to embrace me. Tears in their eyes. “Thank you” they say. “Thank you, thank you”.

 

I don’t know what it is I’m doing exactly, but it must be something right.

 

11th September. I am at the opening night of my LOSING VENICE at the Orange Tree in London. So much laughter. So much pleasure. people so moved. So much celebration in the air.

 

Even then, in 1985, still deep in the closet, I was writing something queer.

 

I have never been able to write straight plays. I wanted to. I reproached myself for my inability to do so, but I had no choice.

 

Being trans, I have to write trans plays. I have to perform as trans.

 

And this is not easy. This still generates powerful feelings of anger.

 

This is the first time LOSING VENICE  has been revived in over 30 years.

 

But there it is. And I know what I am doing.

 

I am overcoming a lifetime of fear and shame.

 

I am being true to myself…

 

Jo Clifford.

 

Jo is the author of over 80 works in every dramatic medium. Her work has been translated into many languages and has been performed all over the world.

Her plays include EVE (co-written with Chris Goode; National Theatre of Scotland), THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE (Traverse Theatre), SEX, CHIPS AND THE HOLY GHOST (Oran Mor), EVERY ONE (Royal Lyceum Theatre), AN APPLE A DAY (Oran Mor/Traverse Theatre), LOSING VENICE, PLAYING WITH FIRE, INES DE CASTRO, LIGHT IN THE VILLAGE (all for Traverse Theatre), TCHAIKOVSKY & THE QUEEN OF SPADES, CHARLES DICKENS: THE HAUNTED MAN (both for Pitlochry Festival Theatre). Also for the stage, Jo has adapted FAUST PARTS 1 & 2 and ANNA KARENINA (both for the Royal Lyceum Theatre), GREAT EXPECTATIONS (TAG), JEKYLL AND HYDE (Sell A Door Productions). LA VIE DE BOHEME and WUTHERING HEIGHTS and has translated SCHISM IN ENGLAND, LIFE IS A DREAM, CELESTINA, THE HOUSE OF BERNARDA ALBA and BINTOU.

For radio, Jo has written SPAM FRITTERS, WRITING HOME TO MOTHER, MADELEINE and AIN’T IT GREAT TO BE BLOOMIN’ WELL DEAD and has adapted BALTASAR & BLIMUNDA and THE LEOPARD, among many others.

Her THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN has been touring Brazil for the the last two years and she will perform it this Christmas at the Traverse Theatre. Her FIVE DAYS WHICH CHANGED EVERYTHING has just been broadcast on BBC Radio 3. Her ANNA KARENINA has just completed a hugely successful run in Tokyo. After performing EVE in Dundeee Rep, she is about to do so for the Nairn Festival and then in Brazil. The short film “These are my hands” (dir Evi Tsiligaridou) which Jo wrote and in which she performed, opened this year at the BFI Flare and Edinburgh international film festivals before winning awards and being shown in festivals in LA, Istanbul, Bristol and Glasgow .

 

She lives in Edinburgh and is a proud father and grandmother.

For further information on Jo and her work, visit www.teatrodomundo.com

 

3 Dec 2018

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