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The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four Stars

The table is set and the candles are waiting to be lit in this just shy of ten year revival of Jo Clifford’s beatific meditation on the child of God. So far, so seasonal, one might think. Except Clifford brings Jesus to life, not as a slightly hipster-looking bearded bloke as is the stuff of biblical cliché, but in her own image as a trans woman surrounded by an audience of disciples who have come to break bread with her.

Over the next 70 minutes of Susan Worsfold’s production, Jesus regales her guests with various yarns concerning both her personal transformation and the gauntlet of hostility and abuse she runs every single day. There are parables too, in which the Good Samaritan is recast as a late night party animal tottering home through Leith, while the prodigal son becomes a runaway daughter who returns home after her wild years. The result of this is part self-deprecating sermon, part anecdote-peppered pre-dinner speech that packs a moral punch rooted in radical theology and reinvented for a non-binary age.

Nine years on from the show’s debut, and with trans rights much more in the spotlight, the rest of the theatrical world at least seems in part to have caught up with Clifford’s presentation of a messiah who holds court with inclusive bonhomie and charm. There is still rage at a world that would hate this version of Jesus, but an over-riding sense of love outweighs the anger of a show that calls for acceptance and humanity in the face of everyday prejudice.

It finishes, as it has too, with a ritual sharing, a prayer, and a blessing for those who might condemn Clifford’s play without ever actually seeing it. If those doubting Thomasinas did dare to bear witness, they would see a show that lives and breathes a moment that looks very much like now, and all the heaven and hell on earth such uncertain times bring with them.

The Herald, December 17th 2018


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