The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

Dec 16 2018 | By More

★★★★★   Sublime

Traverse: Thurs 13 – Sat 22 Dec 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson
Tickets and details: Book here.

Forget any controversy linked to The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven. It should be judged purely as a theatrical experience. On those terms, it is moving, profound and quite brilliantly executed.

Jo Clifford’s depiction of Jesus as a trans woman has of course been around for ten years now, but this is a rare run in a relatively large and mainstream theatre. In this setting – while the production retains its warmth, humanity and gently insistent political bite – the changes made here reinforce what an extraordinary piece of theatre this is.

Jo Clifford in The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven. Pic: Aly Wight.

In particular, the direction and design of Susan Worsfold really comes into its own. There is a temptation in a one-hander to ignore the theatrical craft on display, imagining that – particularly when a performer is as magnetic and seemingly at ease as Clifford is here – that it is simply a matter of turning them loose and letting them get on with it.

However – with the auditorium of the Traverse also boasting a large table for many of the audience to share this unconventional communion more closely with Clifford – it is striking just how brilliant the use of the acting space is. The result is simultaneously intimate and expansive.

There is a similar paradox at work in the heart of the text. The last time Jesus Queen played Edinburgh, it was easy to imagine that society at large was becoming more accepting of trans people in particular and the LGBT+ community in general.

However, since then, events abroad (notably the death threats meted out to those involved in the Brazilian version of the play) and at home (including criticism of trans people by many who should know better) have put paid to such notions.


While no-one is outside picketing the theatre this time round, there is an internet campaign to get Edinburgh Council to disavow the production.

Jo Clifford in The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven. Pic: Aly Wight.

However, the play seems less angry, and more inclusive, than ever. While accepting that terrible things happen – which is hardly surprising for a play written as a response to hatred – perversely, it seems even more optimistic. Even one of the more bitter anti-clerical references in the reworking of the Good Samaritan seems less vindictive, if no less pointed.

Being staged in a theatrical space also pays dividends in a technical sense, notably with George Tarbuck’s lighting design, which meshes with candlelight to produce some breathtaking effects.

It cannot be stressed strongly enough that this is no attack on belief in general or Christianity. Instead, it is a celebratory, almost devotional work that probably gets to the heart of the Gospels more than a regular Christmas show. Those of us who long ago stopped believing that any artistic endeavour has the capability of making anyone a better person can certainly be given pause for thought.

an open mind and an open heart

It should also be said in the strongest terms that this is not some niche entertainment. It should be recommended even (or perhaps especially) to those who think they would not like it.

It is not an accident that those who object most strongly to the whole enterprise tend to refuse even to read it.

For anyone with an open mind, an open heart, or who cares even remotely about their fellow human beings, this is unmissable.

Running time one hour 15 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Thursday 13– Saturday 22 December2018
Wed – Sat: 7.30 pm, Matinee Sun 16: 3pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Jo Clifford in The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven. Pic: Aly Wight.


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