Deeply personal, Eve is not just an insightful account of being trans, but a beautiful account of being, from Jo Clifford.
That National Theatre of Scotland bring a double bill of trans theatre to the Edinburgh Fringe, with FTM (female to male) story Adam and MTF (male to female) show Eve. I think it’s incredible that theatres as so willing to tell trans stories to audiences these day. They are stories about humanity that need to be heard, not just because they challenge perceptions of trans and transitioning in a world still rife with rank transphobia, but because they are also beautiful. Jo Clifford’s Eve is one of those really beautiful stories.
Eve is a bit of a gear shift from its counterpart Adam: a powerful and intense high-drama story about trans identity, cultural identity, and refugeeism. By contrast, Eve is a measured, deep, and time-taking amble through Clifford’s life. It’s far from the maddening crowd of the rest of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and is an oasis of interest and humanity, but it can take just a bit of adjustment to settle into such a pace.
The most beautiful and important thing about Eve is that it’s, in some ways, not actually a “trans play”. Clifford’s biography is so much more a play about life and living of someone who just happens to be trans. This is not a play that theatrically capitalises on the sheer anger and shocking treatment of trans people that some accounts very rightfully have. But that’s not to say Clifford omits or shuns such ignominy that has happened in their life: it’s impossible not to and it’s absolutely right that it’s still there. But it doesn’t dwell on these. It acknowledges, it riles with Clifford’s haunting prose, and then gracefully moves on.
What’s supremely interesting is that Clifford, as a person, isn’t someone who is resentful of their past gender. Part of the whole thing about Eve is that it celebrates Clifford’s past as John, and it’s utterly astonishing. The tales of Johns’ wife and children that add a unique and gorgeous tilt to Eve, and one that is intensely touching, adding a brilliant an unexpected depth. Then there’s the frank honesty about trans sexuality that’s just as beautifully framed and written about as the touching family aspects of Eve. To hear Clifford talk so nonchalantly about arousal and sexuality as a trans woman, without sensation or shock, if so amazingly breathtaking and enlightening.
The biggest problem with a play about any playwright’s life is that it could very easily becoming incredibly self-indulgent. However, Clifford’s tale is anything but. This is because Eve isn’t about recounting a life for the benefit of its author, but it is something that the author sincerely wants to share with their audience. It’s this sincerity is what drives Eve. If you listen and if you engage with Clifford in their tale, you can’t help but be divinely moved.
Direction and Production
It’s not just Clifford’s fantastic writing that propels Eve, but an incredibly moving production behind it. Susan Worsfold’s direction ensures an ethereal ebb and flow to it, and also takes time to get the best out of the metre of Clifford’s text. Furthermore, co-writer Chris Goode’s composition adds an emotive aural fascination to Eve, especially when blended with Matt Padden’s subtle and atmospheric sound design.
What really makes an impact though is Seth Hardwick’s projection design, incorporating and using the photographs that Clifford refers to and leads us through their life story. Hardwick’s execution is spectral and deeply evocative that gently blushes Clifford’s biography with an amazing tenderness.
Eve is a story that should be heard not just because it’s important, but because it’s beautiful. A highly emotional embrace of living life and being trans. Bold and astonishing.