A conversation and a correspondence

Excerpts from an ongoing discussion between Maddy Costa and Griffyn Gilligan, stage manager on Every One

One thought on “A conversation and a correspondence”

  • Jo Clifford says:

    I like to think of my plays as presents to the actors – they’re a kind of offering to them to enable them to showcase their skills. And not just the actors, but the whole creative team.

    And not just them, but the audience also. I hope what they see gives them pleasure, in the richest possible sense, and gives them space to think and feel more deeply that life normally allows.

    I get lots back, of course, and I wouldn’t claim this process is entirely altruistic.

    There’s witnessing the actors’ incredible sensitivity, intelligence and skill. Enjoying every aspect of the production. Listening to the audience’s tears and laughter and intent silences…

    And then there’s discussions like these, which help me think about my work, and theatre work in general, in an entirely new way.

    And I love that. So thank you.

    I wish I could be with you in person to talk these things over further,.

    One thing that’s intrigued me very deeply is the question of why Joe is a man.

    I wanted to share some of my thoughts about that.

    I understand now that I needed to create a certain distance from this character, who is going through suffering that I had so recently gone through myself. I needed to detach in order not to be overwhelmed by grief. Making him a bloke is a simple thing to do.

    Also, of course, when I was in my relationship with Susie I actually was living as a bloke, and the suffering we both went through because that wasn’t in the end who I was is incredibly important but somehow there is no space for it in the play.

    It’s as if there isn’t the emotional room for it, somehow. And there is really quite enough emotion going on in the play already. There’s no need for any more.

    And then there’s the question of censorship. I know this isn’t supposed to exist in our theatre but I can assure you it does.

    I began to write about trans issues in the early 1990’s as a response to a commission from the Traverse to write a play about Lorca. The play was called “The Night Journey” and was rejected. And then I wrote another short play for them, again in response to a commission, about a young trans woman whose father was a Serb general.

    It, too, was rejected. And both plays were lost. I don’t think the fact they were about trans issues means their rejection was altogether coincidental.

    In 1996 I was commissioned to write a play for the Royal Lyceum, “War In America”. Which was also rejected. I was told it was too offensive.

    Then there was a long, long period in which no theatre anywhere in the UK would commission original work from me.

    The writing of “God’s New Frock” (2002) and “The Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven” (2007-8) was entirely self funded.

    “An Apple A Day” (2009) was a lunchtime play commissioned by Oran Mor and the Traverse; and “Every One” came the following year.

    “Every One” matters so much because it was the first published play produced under my name “Jo” and because it broke a long period that began with “Light In The Village” (1991) and lasted for 19 years during which I was unable to write original full length work for the theatre.

    I call that censorship.

    And even then when I was discussing with the Lyceum’s artistic director what the play might be about he said “Please don’t write any of that transgender stuff”.

    And I don’t want to attack him or condemn him for that.

    One of the ways I survived Susie’s fatal illness and death was that I wrote my “Faust Part One” and “Faust Part Two” through it all. Again for the Lyceum.

    I put myself into those two plays as the Poet. Who in Part One is a man and in part two a woman.

    So I was completely staging the process of my transition which was taking place at the time. I would have loved to play that role, but didn’t dare ask.

    For self censorship is also central to trans people’s experience.

    So it was (very beautifully) played by a cis man and a cis woman. But I hope one day it’s staged as I intended.

    Mark Thomson, the director, supported me very strongly through this. It’s important to understand he was running a theatre that depended very brutally for its subsidy on meeting audience targets, and that the core of that audience were predominantly middle class subscribers whose taste in theatre was pretty conventional.

    So it’s important to understand that “Every One’s” form – with its direct address so prominent – was an incredibly revolutionary kind of thing in this beautiful 19th century proscenium arch theatre. Spoken in that theatre and to that audience.

    It took a lot of courage to stage that play, and I’ll always be grateful to Mark for that.

    When my mother died, I remember being put back into the boarding school the very same day I was told. And the message was: don’t talk about your grief”.

    And then after Susie died, I remember people crossing over to the other side of the street to avoid talking to me.

    Don’t talk about grief.

    This play breaks so many different kinds of silence.

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