The creator of a controversial play which depicts Christ returned to earth as a female transsexual has accused critics of misinterpreting her work. Nearly 300 people picketed the opening night of Jesus, Queen of Heaven at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow this week, part of the city’s publicly funded annual Glasgay! arts festival.
Protesters lit candles, sang hymns and brandished placards saying: "Jesus, King of Kings, Not Queen of Heaven" and "God: My Son Is Not A Pervert." But the play’s writer and sole performer Jo Clifford, who is herself transgender and a committed Christian, has been deeply shocked by the reaction to the play.
She said opponents, who had not seen the piece, were wrong to condemn her and had misunderstood her intentions. She said: “I think it is very sad that the protest has enlisted Christians who have difficulties with gays and transsexuals. I wanted to point out that this does not have any foundation in the Bible. The people who angered Jesus were the scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites – the people who were deeply prejudiced those who passed judgment on people they did not know.”
The 59-year-old playwright from Edinburgh, formerly known as John Clifford, switched genders nine years ago following the death of her partner with whom she had two children. Her specially commissioned play, which was described by one reviewer as “overburdened by its ambition and a central characterisation that could inspire no-one” has a capacity audience of just 25. Since the publicity over the protests it has sold all remaining seats until the run comes to an end on Saturday
Organisers hope it could transfer to another theatre, festival or even church but have grown increasingly dismayed at the tone of the reaction in a city which recently reported a 32 per cent rise in homophobic attacks. Ms Clifford’s next play Every One is due to open at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum next year.
The festival’s press agent Alan Miller said: “This is really not what we anticipated. We understood it was a provocative subject and there might be some problems though we never imagined protests like this. There have been a lot of complaints to the theatre but Jo has received a lot of positive correspondence and support on phone-ins as well.”
However, a spokesman for Archbishop Mario Conti, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, said it was “difficult to imagine a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs.”
He said it was particularly troubling following an earlier exhibition at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art as part of the same festival which encouraged visitors to write comments on a Bible which he described as “part of an agenda to mock Christianity”.
"Far from combating prejudice, productions like this reinforce stereotypes. Organisers should realise that you do not promote tolerance of the minority by offending and insulting the majority,” the spokesman said.
A local quango, Culture and Sport Glasgow, received £25,000 in a grant from the city council towards the cost of the festival now in its 16th year which attracts 25,000 art fans. But opponents have questioned why it is continuing to receive funding while other budgets are being cut. Among those taking part in the protest on Tuesday was Pastor Jack Bell of the protestant Zion Baptist Church who has previously led opposition against Jerry Springer, the Musical as well as stars such as Billy Connolly and Marilyn Manson over alleged blasphemy. He told reporters: “If this play had treated the prophet Mohammed in the same way there would have been a strong reaction from the Islamic community, but that just wouldn't happen.”