Jo Clifford on International Women’s Day

Autumn Voices is delighted to share Jo Clifford’s words on International Women’s Day.

Jo Clifford is a proud father and grandmother, playwright and performer, based in Edinburgh.

She is the author of over 100 plays, many of which have been performed all over the world.

Plays include: Every One, The Tree Of Knowledge, Faust Parts One And Two, Ines De Castro and Great Expectations.

As a writer–performer, she is best known for Eve (co-written with Chris Goode) and The Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven.

During lockdown, she has been creating online work for Paines Plough, Pitlochry, NTS, The Tron, and creating two sequences of short plays for her company, Queen Jesus Productions.

She is currently working on The Not So Ugly Duckling (with Maria MacDonell) and The Covid REQUIEM (with Lesley Orr) for Pitlochry theatre.

She has just been awarded the Olwen Wymark award for ‘Exceptional encouragement of theatre writing’.

You can find Jo on Twitter and Facebook.

So. Who am I?

My name is Jo Clifford. I am a 71-year-old father and grandmother, playwright and performer.

I am sitting in Helsinki station. Waiting for a train.

Right now, each train that comes into this station from St. Petersburg is full of frightened Russian people fleeing their country.

It gives the place a rather special feel.

I’ve spent a month at a Writer’s Retreat in the Finnish countryside writing my new play.

It’s called SISTER DEATH and it’s not a play in the conventional sense, more a performance piece, and the idea behind it is to help me and help its audiences come to grips with the fact that soon or later we will die.

I conceived of the idea in the worst days of the pandemic. War in Europe gives it a special poignancy . . .

If we can look at death, it seems to me, we will also learn to live richer and happier lives.

And also, perhaps, be more focused and active in our opposition to environmental degradation and in our determination to stop this war.

I like the fact that I’m writing this to perform it myself, because it’s only in my late sixties that I have re-discovered my vocation as a performer.

I also like the fact that in my suitcase are copies of the programme for my dramatisation of Wuthering Heights which has been successfully staged (even if in the end to Covid-restricted audiences) in Finland in the last couple of years.

And there’s also two enormous bars of chocolate and a bag of Moomin coffee that I got given yesterday after leading a playwrights’ workshop on the theme of empathy.

Empathy is something playwrights need, obviously, but it’s also a powerful political force in this brutal and uncaring world.

One participant has family in Ukraine; another is devastated because he can see so clearly the parallels between the Russian invasion now and the Russian invasion of Finland in 1939.

To strengthen our capacity for empathy and strengthen our connections to each other as human beings strike me as important acts of resistance. 

I’m proud in my profession to be part of that.

Just beside my suitcase is my stick. I walk with it because my heart was broken by the death of my wife, and I needed open heart surgery to fix it. And more recently a pacemaker to counter the side effects of the heart surgery and two new knees and a new hip to counter the effects of the arthritis which may be connected to the heart surgery or may just be a side effect of living . . .

And walking keeps getting harder because the arthritis has begun to attack both ankles and while there is a friendly surgeon who has offered to replace them, too, I’m not at all sure I can bear the thought of two more operations and so I do my Versus Arthritis exercises every day and hope for the best. 

And I do continually hope for the best because tomorrow I take the boat to Stockholm and from Stockholm I take the train to Copenhagen and from Copenhagen the train to Hamburg and from Hamburg the train to Brussels and from Brussels the train to London where I spend two nights with my daughter before taking the train home to Edinburgh just in time for a production meeting of the Not So Ugly Duckling Theatre Company before we start rehearsals for the show which opens at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh on April 20th.

Me and Maria MacDonell, another actress, started the company because, given the prejudice against older actors (and against older people generally), we knew it was the only way we’d get professional work in the theatre.

We wanted to dramatise the Hans Christian Andersen story and do it for adults because we’ve both spent a lot of time in our lives feeling out of place, like ugly ducklings, and we wanted to create something for everybody that ever felt the same.

I felt like an ugly duckling because I was supposed to be a man and discovered eventually that I wasn’t.

And after 25 years of living as a woman I look in the mirror and find myself beginning to look like a man again.

And not minding . . .

So, who am I?

Good question.

It’s time for me to catch my train.

Goodbye . . .

Jo Clifford

You can more information on Jo’s work at:

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