Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: The Gospel According to Jesus Queen of Heaven, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Sally Stott
When it premiered, in 2009, Jo Clifford’s portrayal of Jesus as a transsexual woman caused a group of churchgoers to protest against what the Archbishop of Glasgow called “an affront to the Christian faith.” The irony is that her one-woman reappropriation of biblical text to promote a message of tolerance in today’s world is a great advocate for what – to anyone who doesn’t discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality – would generally be considered good Christian values.
Indeed, it’s a show that takes everything that’s positive about religious faith and, with the warm glow of candles and smell of incense, turns it into a profound and immersive experience not dissimilar to being at a particularly moving church service.
With the smooth, mellow voice of an understated priest, Clifford’s Jesus, in Converse trainers, red trousers and a golden jacket, might look distinctive but is, as she points out, also one of us. “I am the truth – and all manner of other wonderful things besides.” Through a series of reworked biblical stories, she creates a gospel for the 21st century: a boy who becomes a girl “once was lost and now is found”; those about to beat a woman to death are told, “Let the one who is without sin be the first to cast a stone.”
As a result, the positive principles behind most religions are juxtaposed against the oppressive and violent acts often carried out in their names. Sex is something to be celebrated as beautiful, rather than suppressed, and the cross becomes something we all have to bear – in death – as the price for the gift of life. Ultimately, the potential that faith has to bring people together for good, through shared rituals, is championed through a playful piece that quietly develops into something genuinely enlightening.
Summerhall/ Summerhall @ Artspace at St Mark’s (Venue 26/ Venue 125), until 30 August, 10:45am
Published in The Scotsman on 25 August 2015
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