Theatre review: Jesus, Queen of Heaven


IT'S been over 2,000 years, but Jesus still pulls a crowd. The mere existence of this play, in which the Messiah is portrayed as a transsexual woman, prompted more than 300 protesters to demonstrate outside the theatre on opening night. Inside, in a set recalling The Last Supper, the audience sat disciple-like around writer-performer Jo Clifford, who, in the title role, began by archly lamenting Christ's apparent habit of upsetting Christians.

At once an expression of faith denouncing fundamentalism, a call for tolerance and acceptance for all, and an unabashed celebration of transgender existence, the worthy Queen of Heaven is regrettably overburdened by its ambition and a central characterisation that could inspire no-one. With the patronising rhetoric of a faux-naif, at times irritatingly New Agey in her wishy-washy evocation of guardian angels, Clifford's Jesus recalls various parables from the New Testament but transplants them to a contemporary setting and recasts them with greater inclusivity – the Good Samaritan is now a disco queen tottering home on her heels; the Prodigal Son returns a Prodigal Daughter.

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Parallels between Christ's persecution and that of the transgender community and women are well-drawn and Clifford's version of Christianity feels like a fluffier, more welcoming and indeed fun sect than many. But the playwright can't resolve the Bible's contradictions and this pick'n'mix interpretation, alternately affirming and subverting the Gospels, is ultimately unsatisfying.