Jo Clifford is known as one of Scotland’s leading playwrights. She has written about 80 performed scripts in just about every dramatic medium, some of which have been performed all over the world. Rally & Broad are delighted to welcome her to our Glasgow stage this month on Sunday 24 April. Tickets here! Josephine Sillars interviews her below!
- As well as being one of Scotland’s leading playwrights, you are also an actress, poet and teacher! Which medium are you the most comfortable in (and is there anything you can’t do?)
I’m rubbish at football. And weightlifting is not my strong point. Of the things you list that I can do, I love doing all of them…I guess because acting/performing was something I was blocked in for about 40 years, I feel I have to catch up a lot of lost time. And get the hugest satisfaction and pleasure from…
- The theme of this month’s Rally & Broad is ‘We Could Be Heroes’. Without giving too much of your set away, what are your thoughts on this month’s theme?
When i was forced to live as a boy, I was taught that heroes were professional killers like Achilles or Hector or Lord Nelson. That’s a really unhelpful definition of heroism. These days I tend to think of people who suffer from oppression but who refuse to succumb to internalise self hatred as heroes.
I’m about to go back to Brazil, which has the highest rate of trans murders in the world. A horribly common thing that happens is that young trans people are denied education (because the bullying is so horrendous) and driven out of their parental homes, and forced into prostitution. All those who survive in their life as long as they can and remain decent human beings, and those who escape and create better lives for themselves… these are my heroes.
- In 2014, you wrote a poem called ‘Unnamed Woman in the Poet’s Pub’ as part of Dear Scotland; a series of ‘sharp monologues inspired by portraits from the National Portrait Gallery’. Your piece was inspired by the famous painting ‘The Poets Pub’, and in it you give a voice to the unnamed women of the painting, and advocate for the people of Scotland – regardless of gender – not to be ashamed of their voices. How do you feel the themes of this poem translate into a post-Referendum Scotland?
Sadly, when it came to the Referendum, Scotland was ashamed of her voice. And now look where we are… But the struggle is as important now as it was then. And we will win in the end…
- Your play Every One (a modern adaptation of the medieval play Everyman) was recently performed again at the Battersea Arts Centre in London. How did you find returning to it?
I’m really proud of that play. It was given a beautiful new production, and it was lovely to see it again.
It’s ridiculous how we treat plays in Scotland. This business of rehearsing four weeks and closing the run after 3 weeks is so wasteful. So much good work disappears without having the chance to establish itself in the repertoire. So it made me really happy to see this play being revived. There’s about another 60 of my plays waiting in line…
- You are currently working on a piece called ‘Eve’ for National Theatre Scotland (which will be performed as part of the double bill Eve/Adam) which is based on your experiences as a trans woman. You have previously portrayed a transgender Jesus in your play ‘The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven’, which prompted protests when a film of it was shown in Belfast. What is it that draws you to write plays under a spiritual dimension?
Lots of things. It’s horrible the way Christianity is used to justify transphobia, injustice and oppression. I wanted to resist that; which is why JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN still matters to me. This is why I’m taking the play to Brazil…
And then theatre began as a sacred art, and has mostly lost that dimension. But I think we are spiritual beings, even if almost certainly not in the way organised religion understands it. And because capitalism denies this dimension to our lives, we all suffer under it. So making sure there’s a spiritual dimension to my work is one of the ways in which I try to resist..
- And last but not least – what are you reading at the moment?
I’m re-reading Virginia Woolf’s TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, which is so heart-stoppingly beautiful.
And CIDADE DE DEUS (CITY OF GOD) by Pablo Lins because I’m taking part in an event in that favela next month and I want to understand something of its history….
And there you have it! Come see Jo perform alongside The Spook School, Viv Gee, Scott Tyrrell and Imogen Islay Hay, Sunday 24 April, 2:30pm, Stereo, Glasgow!