Date: 14 February
The sweet powdery scent of incense wafts past as the doors swing open at St. Chrysostom’s Church in Manchester. Framed by beautiful arches and stained glass windows, smiling faces welcome the audience in for an alternative service – The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven by playwright and performer Jo Clifford. This thoughtful and engaging solo show re-imagines the Gospels with a transgender Jesus.
Running for approximately one hour, the performance begins with a sermon before the congregation is invited to each take a candle and move on to the brightly coloured rugs and cushions in the middle of the performance space.
When The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven was first performed at Glasgay Festival in 2009, it was met with anger by some members of the Christian community and it was condemned by the Archbishop of Glasgow. Angry protesters picketed the Tron Theatre, without reading the script or seeing the show, with one remarking: “You don’t have to go near a sewer to know that it stinks.” I was pleased to see that Jo Clifford makes a powerful reference to this metaphor in the performance and by doing so refuses to be silenced and continues to resist any shame and fear surrounding trans people.
Jo Clifford has a wonderfully expressive tone of voice, moving from a calming whisper to a rich tone loaded with tension. Candles are lit in a kind of ritual throughout the performance – by this flickering candlelight, director Susan Worsfold conveys a sense of worship with intimacy.
The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven is a passionate show and not without humour; throughout Clifford demonstrates the Christian value of acceptance and the show is delivered with a warm sense of friendship and tolerance.
By the end of the performance, many people in the audience were whispering “Amen” in reply to Jo Clifford’s prayer. The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven is a moving and touching show, perfectly illuminating everyone’s right to live a life free of discrimination, which I’m sure left most of the audience reflective and hopeful for change.
Interested in finding out more? To visit Jo Clifford’s blog click here.