O Evangelho Segundo Jesus, Rainha Do Ceu @ The Tron, Glasgow
This Brazilian reimagining of Jo Clifford's ground-breaking The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven is poignant, heart-breaking and has the unique potential to change lives
It's difficult to distill the genesis and history of this extrordinary piece of work into one review, as there are few recent plays that have had such a far-reaching political, social and cultural impact.
The premise is simultaneously simple and dangerously threatening to the hegemony. Jesus is reimagined as a trans woman, and the gospel is told through her eyes. A decade ago, when Jo Clifford's play was first performed at the Tron (where it returns tonight), 500 angry demonstrators protested outside the theatre. There was violence, and there were lawsuits. Nontheless, Clifford and her team fearlessly took the show on tour, including to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2014 where it was seen by Brazilian director and translator, Natalie Mallo. Stunned by the piece, Mallo stayed up until the early hours the night she saw it, painstakingly translating every line into Portugese.
The result is O Evangelho Segundo Jesus, Rainha Do Ceu; a show that has weathered censorship, violence and sixteen lawsuits since the day it premiered in the Brazilian city of Londrina in 2016. But the show has also sparked mass conversation, sold-out performances all over the country, and become a symbol for the trans rights and anti-censorship movements.
Even if the play itself was bad, its importance as a piece of activism would be enough to render it a landmark in the history of political art. But O Evangelho isn't bad. As a piece of theatre, it's wonderful. Brazilian actress Renata Carvalho is a born performer: her energy, charisma and defiance as Queen Jesus is captivating from beginning to end. And the poetry of Clifford's dialogue, translated beautifully by Mallo – original, offbeat and slightly strange – is, at points, breathtaking. Her rewritten Our Father is so moving that many in the audience are left in tears. The artistic decision to include the audience at vital points in the play, touching in the process upon the similarities between religious ritual and dramatic art, is also a fine one. It creates an intense feeling of solidarity and unity that is often grasped for, but rarely achieved like this, in the theatre.
In Jair Bolsonaro's Brazil, it is currently too dangerous to perform O Evangelho Segundo Jesus, Rainha Do Ceu. In the panel discussion on art, activism and censorship afterwards, Carvalho speaks of having to sometimes perform the piece wearing "a bullet-proof vest". In a transphobic society, it takes guts to programme or perform The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, and this is particularly true in Brazil, the most lethal nation for trans people in the world. But when, against all odds, it is seen by audiences, it has the unique power to change lives.
This performance was part of the Gospel According To Jesus, Queen of Heaven mini-season at Tron Theatre. Find out more about Queen Jesus Productions at queenjesusproductions.com