Tuesday, September 19, 2017

An open letter to a Bishop, who, like many of his fellow Christians, wants to ban my play

Dear Dom Tomé,

Forgive me for being so presumptuous as to write to you directly when we have not met.

I just wanted to tell you that I listened to your radio broadcast yesterday

The one in which you attacked my play “The Gospel According To Jesus Queen of Heaven” for offending Christian values, and spoke so eloquently of the need for responsibility in the use of our right to free speech.

Dom Tomé, I so absolutely agree with you. I so strongly believe that we have a moral responsibility for what we say; and that in particular we should not speak in public in order to spread prejudice and hatred.

As a Christian like you, I believe very strongly that our public words should try to spread Christian values of forgiveness and love.

You never mention the content of my play because I suspect you have not read it. I imagine the idea of a trans woman, a travesti, portraying Jesus on stage outraged you too much. 

Forgive me for causing you distress.

But you’ll be aware, Dom Tomé, that when the Son of God came down among us He did not take human form among the powerful and great but among the rejected and despised.

As a trans woman myself, I have spent my life among the rejected and despised, and so I am sure you’ll understand how profoundly this moves me.

And so I wanted to find a powerful way of bringing this profound truth onto the stage.

Never for a moment did I intend to attack the Church or Christian values, as you suggest.

So it saddens me to hear you say that any Catholic who sees my play has committed a sin and should go to confession afterwards.

There is an excellent translation of the play, dear Dom Tomé, and it has been performed all round São Paulo for over a year now. Many Christian ministers and lay people have seen the play in your country and in mine and agree that it is absolutely in accord with the truths of the Christian faith.

I would happily send you a copy as a gift. I would so love to be able to talk to you about my re-telling of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Woman at the Well, the Woman Taken in Adultery, and the Prodigal Son.

I expect we would disagree on some things, and I would imagine you would find my interpretation of Holy Communion very unorthodox.

But I know we would also agree on the profound beauty, love and wisdom of the words of the Gospels and their importance in our troubled world.

Lastly, Dom Tomé, I also wanted to say how sorry I am to hear of your troubles and difficulties.

I gather that in 2015 there were allegations that you had been in  a loving relationship with your chauffeur and that in order to give him presents you took money from Diocesan funds.

And that when you were explaining matters to your fellow priests you wept. You must have been suffering so greatly. I imagine that you are still suffering, Dom Tomé, and I can only offer you my profoundest sympathy.

Of course I wouldn’t dream of judging or condemning you. As my play says, we are all here on this earth to love and to be loved. And:

“We all of us stumble over our Mother Earth. All of us stumbling together. We have no right or business to condemn”.

And as Someone infinitely wiser and more loving than both of us said:

“Let the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone”.

I quote Him in my play. Of course. Like you, I hold Him in the greatest reverence and respect.

I am glad your fellow priests found it in their hearts to forgive you and that you are still in post.

I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us too. Like you, we are trying in our imperfect way to spread a Christian message of peace and love.

I hope that one day we can work together.

In the meantime, I wish you well.


Jo Clifford.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

EVE comes to the Glasgow Citizens'. Or: A dream I never had comes true...

I’m sitting in my dressing room in the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre.

I never thought I’d ever write such a sentence. 

But I just have: and I’ll be on stage soon.

And I’m looking in the mirror and remembering the first Citz show that I ever saw.

It was TAMBURLAINE THE GREAT in the Church of Scotland Assembly Hall in August 1972. Me and Susie had only recently begun to be able to make love together. We’d just come back from a mad journey to Zaragoza. We had such little money and we’d spent it on tickets for this show and the first thing we saw was this beautiful half-naked painted young man standing by the statue of John Knox breathing fire.

I remember him and I remember Bajazet in his cage and the rest of the show is a confused memory of incredible colour and intense beauty and horrible cruelty.

Cruelty that was part of the beauty somehow and most of all this fabulous intensity to everything that I had never experienced in a theatre before.

I fell in love with it though it terrified me too and not long afterwards we would regularly pile into our battered car and drive across to Glasgow to see their productions from our commune in Fife.

And talk about them so intensely on the journey home afterwards. Some of the things I saw at that time made me angrier than anything I’ve seen before or since. And sometimes there’d be something so beautiful…

I remember a moment in MARY STUART when Mary is about to meet Elizabeth and the huge black drapes slowly fell off the theatre walls and I have never seen anything lovelier….

Whatever it was so strongly drew me there was all a bit of a mystery to me at the time, . It wasn’t that I was consciously preparing myself to be a playwright because at that time I never knew I was such a thing.

And performing again was completely impossible. The idea never even crossed my mind. I was still so deeply hurt. I still thought that if anyone apart from Susie knew about me I would die of shame.

And as far as I knew I was still a novelist. And a consistently failing one, too.

Looking back it’s obvious that I kept failing to write novels because I wasn’t a novelist, I never was, and had just completely misunderstood myself.

And then when I stumbled into writing plays I never for a moment considered myself an actor. It wasn’t till the early two thousands that the ridiculous idea even began to occur to me that I could maybe perform.

“Something else I got wrong”, I think, as I look in my dressing room mirror.

It’s the first time I’ve done a show on a nineteenth century proscenium arch stage. I’m intensely curious about it.

The theatre was built in 1878 and designed by a unsung genius called Campbell Douglas. He pulled off that miracle the best of these old theatres can achieve: of being large and public and intimate at the same time. Sit in the stalls and what’s on stage looks so imposing; stand on the stage and you feel you can reach out and touch people.

None of which makes it easy. The rake is not kind on my arthritic knees and ankles and hips: the invisible slope of the stage is so steep I can barely walk.  And I can’t place my voice in the acoustic somehow. I don’t feel any connection anywhere.

But this is a powerful place. That’s for sure. It’s a kind of machine that in one sense I’m just a cog in. And it’ll be pitiless if I let myself be dominated by fear.

And the thought comes that really it’s so very ridiculous to try to transfer a show that’s established itself so firmly in the three sided intimacy of Traverse 2 into the 500 seater bigness of a place like this… and with that thought I stop judging myself and set myself free to explore.

Performing the show in a big public space like the Citz brings out new dimensions of meaning. Political dimensions me and Chris Goode always meant to be there, because this is the space for which we originally wrote it.

I can’t write about them now, because I’m still trying to understand the possibilities this new, amazing, miraculous and beautiful space allows me.

At one stage in the show I tell my younger self: “And all those dreams you had which seemed so impossible have all come true”.

And the strange thing is that I can’t say that performing in the Citz is a dream come true. It was so impossible that I never even dared dream it.

But here it is. And what will happen?

I’ll find out tonight.

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