Friday, 14 August 2015

Jesus Queen of Heaven: Jo Clifford @ edfringe 2015


Summerhall – Anatomy Lecture Theatre
5-9; 12-16; 19-23; 26 – 30 August 2015, 10.45am (1 hour)
Sunday 23rd August, 9pm
Ticket Price: £15/£12

Legendary trans* Scottish playwright Jo Clifford returns to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as part of the Made in Scotland programme with her controversial play THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN

Clifford's revolutionary and spiritual play, which re-tells the gospel to consider its message of inclusion and openness, is back at the fringe after its explosive and controversial 2009 opening.

Jo Clifford, Edinburgh based award-winning playwright, translator and poet wrote Jesus, Queen of Heaven to explore the inclusivity found in the bible’s new testament gospel stories by retelling them with a cast of more recognisable characters. The piece, performed by Jo, is a candlelit, peaceful, meditative start to a Fringe day.

2009’s five-night run of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS QUEEN OF HEAVEN was met with 1,000 protesters from Christian groups outside the Tron Theatre and 750,000 bloggers protesting worldwide. The archbishop of Glasgow subsequently called Clifford’s vision of a transgendered Jesus 'an affront to the Christian faith'. He never saw it.

Directed by Susan Worsfold, theatre director and one of Scotland’s leading voice coaches. Susan has been collaborating with Jo on the project since 2010, after the first performances at Glasgay 2009. Performed in the Anatomy Lecture Theatre, the piece will respect the history of the space and its role, and the lives of animals passing through the old Veterinary College.

The response from those that have seen the play over the last six years has been everything but this assumed upset:

“Queen Jesus reminds us of the purity of sex and pleasure, the importance of empathy. We hold hands, and remember what it means not to be alone” – Exeunt magazine

“a humane, mischievous and loving solo show, one in which bread is shared, wine is drunk and the familiar stories of the New Testament are reimagined. In the process, the world is also reimagined—as a far better, kinder and more tolerant place.” – Lyn Gardner, The Guardian

Jo Clifford added about the show: “I didn’t imagine it would be so controversial. Christianity is often used as a weapon against LGBT people to deny us our rights. I wanted to see how this could be justified by the source texts, and in “Jesus Queen of Heaven” make the simple point that Jesus never attacked us and assert our human rights to justice and respect.

“Prejudice, oppression and injustice are suffered by just about every trans person everywhere in the world and the global struggle against oppression of LGBT people is profoundly connected to the wider struggle for women’s rights throughout the world.

"Already this year a horrifying number of us trans* women and men have been brutally murdered, abused and savagely beaten or bullied into suicide. That's why it's important to do this play again.

“The play has been translated into portuguese and will soon be touring Brazil, one country that's notorious for being appallingly dangerous for us trans* women.

“I think of my friends and sisters in Sao paulo, who go about in fear of their lives. And especially of Veronica Bolina whose photograph was circulated with her head shaved, breasts exposed, hands and feet handcuffed, and face so savagely beaten it was unrecognisable. And who is still being held in a men's jail. I want to dedicate these performances to her."

What made you engage with a religious character  for your show?
Much of the prejudice and hatred directed towards us LGBT people, and especially those of us who are trans, comes from religious sources.

I wanted to try to understand where this was coming from, and started in 2002 to write a play about the God of the Old Testament - GOD’S NEW FROCK.

I was fascinated to discover that before humans worshipped the male god of the sky we worshipped the female goddess of the earth, and society was organised along matriarchal lines.

The creation of the Old Testament occurred in a period during and just after the immensely painful transition from one to the other.

So it occurred to me that one reason why Jehovah was such a grumpy character was because He had just suppressed Her femininity. this caused him much suffering. And somehow connected with the suffering I went through when I was adolescent and was forced to suppress my feminine self.

So those were the stories I told, and I performed the show in the Tron and the Traverse in 2003.

And then I had a breakdown, and my partner died of a brain tumour, and I needed open heart surgery, and I transitioned because I simply could not bear to continue living as a man… and I put that play aside until it was translated into Italian and I saw it in the Teatro della Limonaia in Florence in 2008.

Italian audiences loved it, and that spurred me on to write a sequel about the New Testament. I wrote it with the help of the Italian theatre, and finally produced it myself in the Tron in 2009 as part of Glasgay.

And Queen Jesus was the character who spoke to my imagination…
All the fury this provoked with the demonstrations outside the theatre and the massive controversy on the world wide web was something I found deeply frightening and traumatising. But it also taught me I was on to something important; and ever since then, bit by bit, I have been working to overcome my fears and bring the piece back to life.

This year’s version has been rewritten and re-imagined and rehearsing it makes me aware it still has something to say and its message still needs to be heard.

Do you think that pagan tales retain a meaning in our contemporary world?
Of course they do. They are an incredibly important and precious record of the inner life of humanity and of our collective subconscious mind.

Is theatre a good place for thinking about spiritual ideas?
It’s probably the best place of all, because to create good theatre around these themes they have to stop being theological abstractions and become clothed in flesh and blood.
And of course theatre began as a religious ritual. For me the spiritual dimension of theatre has been incredibly important ever since I started creating it in 1980.

How does your production express sympathy - or antipathy - towards the values of (ancient and modern) Christianity?
I am completely in sympathy with most of the values of early Christianity and profoundly moved and inspired by the Jesus we read about in the Gospels. He was an amazing and beautiful human being, as far as I can tell.

However, the Archbishop of Glasgow said of my play that “It is hard to imagine a greater affront to the Christian church”.

And perhaps he was right…

I have had huge support from my church, the URC on George IV Bridge, and the Unitarian church too.

But then other churches would tend to agree with the dear Archbishop. Even the Just Festival and St John’s church - both inclusive and progressive in many ways - turned down the play last year.

What do you think about the doctrine of a divine incarnation?
We all have a spark of he Divine inside us, the play says, and one way of understanding what we must do on this earth is to discover that spark within us and bring it out into the open.

“We all have a light”, the play says, “and sometimes it’s the very thing we’ve been taught to be most ashamed of. And if you have a light, do you hide it in a closet? No. You bring it out into the open where everyone can see it. And be glad it exists to shine in the world…”

Written and performed by Jo Clifford.
Directed by Susan Worsfold.
Produced by Annabel Cooper.

Jo Clifford is an award-winning playwright, translator, poet and performer, who has also worked as a journalist and academic. With plays like Losing Venice, Ines de Castro and Light in the Village, she helped establish the international reputation of the Traverse Theatre Company in the 1980s.

She is the author of over 70 works in every dramatic medium. Her work has been translated into many languages and has been performed all over the world and her adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations made her the first openly transsexual woman playwright to have her work performed in London’s West End.

As a playwright, Jo has over thirty years’ experience of having her work presented at the Fringe and in the International Festival. However this is her debut as a performer.

She lives in Edinburgh and is a former Professor of Theatre at Queen Margaret University. She is father of two amazing grown up daughters and such a proud Grandma!

For further details and her blog go to
Follow her on Twitter @JoCliffordPlays

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