Eve (Theatre, Edinburgh Festival) 27.08.17
Actress/writer Jo Clifford's telling of her life story, Eve, to the accompaniment of photos and occasional background music, produces the expected; it is poignant and sometimes sad, though ultimately has you feeling relieved for her. Like Kate O'Donnell's You've Changed, it charts the trans experience from what feels like another age, a judgmental twentieth century and early twenty-first, in which the role models were pantomime grotesques and cinema-forged psychopaths. It is harrowing to think about such isolating times for trans people, and one cannot but feel for Jo. After all, she came out only in her fifties, her childhood in particular seemed wretched.
Unlike O'Donnell's account, Jo doesn't focus on the gender reassignment surgery or the other aspects of the physical process. Instead she relives moments of tension or hostility in public situations, and you do feel for her vulnerability. For anyone thinking that transitioning comes from some mendacious intention – as some radical feminists have claimed (and continue to claim) – either for fame or fortune or infiltration of the female sphere, Jo's narrative will underline the humanity of the experience.
Did I think this telling was radical or original? No, I think Eve is simply the reminder that when we're talking about trans, we're talking about people, often in difficult and conflicting situations. Perhaps the most tender moment in this show was Jo's remembrance of the woman who would become her wife. A final photograph of the centre of Jo's universe, Susie, as illness was beginning to take her, was for me the most moving part of the evening. Elsewhere, it was difficult not to see the photos of Jo as a teenager, of both eye-catchingly good looks and discernible sensitivity, and see the tragedy of Jo's repression.
Overall, I think Eve is the kind of simple, linear story-telling that doesn't ask big (and potentially unanswerable) questions about the why and what of transgender identity, but it will educate and inform anyone who wants a first glimpse of what it is to experience growing up with gender dysphoria, particularly in times and places that lack sympathy or understanding.