The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Jo Clifford's infamous play returns to Edinburgh with a Yuletide message of hope and tolerance.

Review by Amy Taylor | 21 Dec 2018

Almost ten years after its premiere, Jo Clifford’s The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, directed by Susan Worsfold, has returned to Edinburgh with a slight reworking of the original play. Fans of Clifford or, indeed, fans of contentious pieces of theatre will be glad to know that in the almost ten years since its first performance, the show has lost none of its bite, power, or relevancy. In fact, thanks to the ongoing media obsession with reporting negative stories about transgender people, it may even be more relevant now than when it was first performed.

But what caused the play to have such longevity, and seemingly cause such controversy? Simply put, in this piece, Jesus (played with passion and great dignity by Clifford herself) has returned to Earth, but only this time, she is a transgender woman. Around a banquet table, she delivers a powerful sermon, gives blessings and speaks about her life.

For those that have seen The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, its unfortunate habit of being overshadowed by intolerance and headlines is at odds with the clear message of the play: inclusion. Clifford has written a play about accepting difference and, in doing so, reminds us of some of the passages of The Bible which have either been overlooked or wilfully or ignorantly misconstrued for other ends; after all, as she points out, Jesus was very good friends with a sex worker.

Moving in between preaching the gospels and peppering the stories with tales from Clifford’s own life and experiences, the piece looks at Christianity and humanity, and examines where they clash: where human nature usurps Christian teachings and vice versa. Ultimately this is a piece of theatre that wants to discuss love and understanding, and asks us to put aside our differences. It’s a generous and totally unique show; the audience drink wine and break bread (always vegan and gluten free) with Clifford while she evangelises and dares to question long-held beliefs and scripture. Performed with poise and a deep respect for the original text on which it's based, this is an enchanting and hopeful show that marks the end of a difficult and volatile year.

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until 22 December: