Step into St Marks and you’re hit by that church smell: pine steeped in incense, must and dust; a reminder of how long it’s been since you last stepped inside a building like this. Sat on a pew, shoulder to shoulder, all facing forwards, you feel its stillness. A voice at the back pipes up, soft and resonant: “They should have sofas in here. Not benches.”
Jo Clifford’s re-envisaged Christian service was dubbed blasphemous by the Archbishop of Glasgow five years ago and St Johns refused to host this revival. That rather proves her point. Religion can be so exclusive, so liturgical and, frankly, so intolerant. How does it ever square with the core of its preaching: love?
Here Clifford wrenches Christianity into something open-armed and fit for all. The transgender playwright plays Jesus, disrupting the gospels’ patriarchal perspective and refusing the distortion of her teaching into injunctions. Her disciples weren’t “12 straight men with beards.” Her Good Samaritan is a queer nightclubber heading home. Her Prodigal Son comes home a daughter. This is Christianity couched in humanist terms; not so much non-denominational as anti-denominational.
Originally performed at the Tron theatre, it gains a lot from its move into a church. This is no longer a wry theatrical satire or an ersatz mock-up, but an actual alternative. Clifford is practising what she preaches and her Gospel is less theatrical than it is spiritual; a vital reminder of religion’s real heart, rather than the rules and rites that so often obscure it.