Edinburgh review: Eve (Traverse Theatre)

Jo Clifford tells her personal and true transgender story as part of the Traverse Theatre’s festival line up

Jo Clifford in Eve
Jo Clifford in Eve
© David Monteith-Hodge

The festival has only just begun, but it’s looking like gender identity is going to be this year’s most obvious theme. The Traverse has several shows that explore gender, with Jo Clifford’s Eve loosely paired with another show, Adam: both tell true transgender stories.

Calling them Adam and Eve seems to contain its own inherent critique of gender essentialism, that we all go back to that original man or woman. But Clifford’s play, written with Chris Goode, isn’t about archetypes – it’s a highly personal account of her life, and her journey to accepting herself as a woman.

It’s brave, in its open honesty and lucid simplicity. But under Susan Worsfold’s direction, it’s also a rather dour, monotonous show: Clifford’s delivery is one-note throughout, and that note is mournful. The monologue is heavy, saturated with sighs, laden with plangent piano arpeggios. It’s a fine line between elegiac and Eeyore-ish, and Eve crosses it.

Admittedly, there is no shortage of hardship in Clifford’s past – her mother’s death when she was still a young boy, the strictures and constraints of all-male boarding schools, and the indignities suffered at the hands of gatekeeping gender psychiatrists are all recounted painfully here. Still, descriptions of falling in love, discovering sex, embracing writing and, finally, her own womanhood should provide a tonal counterpoint to the struggle. And there are flashes of righteous anger and of pride in embracing queerness. But the monotone, mannered delivery means Eve rarely hits the note of galvanising resistance found within the text, which features celebratory lines like "I have no time for shame".

Perhaps Eve actually suffers by suddenly feeling like a part of a wave of writing on this subject: where just a few years ago, even hearing Clifford's story at all would have been a rare and radical act, now it feels part of a chorus. Hooray that that chorus exists and is finally beginning to be heard, with its many and varied voices, but maybe it means we ask for more from these stories: is a simple autobiography, however truthful and sad, necessarily enough?

Blown up photographs help take us through this life story, while the show is simply staged on a Klein-blue wooden platform. The bottom of Clifford’s long pale dress is inky too, as if it’s soaking up the colour. It’s apt; the show feels like it is dragging through the blues.

Eve is at the Traverse Theatre until 27 August.

For all our content from this year's Edinburgh Festival click here