A ONE-woman play which reimagines the parables of the New Testament as told by a modern day, transgender Jesus opens at the Traverse in Edinburgh on December 13, almost a decade on from its controversial premier at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in 2009.

Since then, leading playwright Jo Clifford has performed The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen Of Heaven in a number of unusual venues in Scotland and in Uruguay and Brazil, where it has been touring continuously for two years.

With the election of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro, performances of the play have been met with censorship and threats of violence on the one hand, and love, acceptance and encouragement by those who have seen it.

Performed there by Renata Carvalho and directed by Natalia Mallo – who also translated Clifford’s play into Portuguese – O Evangelho Segundo Jesus, Rainha do Ceu has become an emblem for LGBT rights and creative freedom. On December 16, Carvalho and Mallo will join the Scottish team via web-link for a discussion following a special performance that day at 3pm.

Going to see the play in Brazil has “become a political act” says Susan Worsfold, who directs this new Christmas run in Edinburgh. In August 2017 she also directed Clifford’s acclaimed EVE, a touching memoir of how the prolific playwright had lived most of her life as a man known as John Clifford.

“The play has had a very powerful radical effect in Brazil,” says Clifford who recently visited the country. “It’s been the most talked about play in Brazil since it started there, and it’s sold out wherever it goes; people totally love it.”

She adds: “But at the same time, many people try to stop it, and try to censor it. We did a reading together but we couldn’t publicise it because of the ascent of the right-wing. The president has tweeted to his followers what a horrible, disgraceful play it is. It’s becoming very dangerous.”

Around 300 people picketed the play’s premiere in Scotland in 2009, with a spokesman for Archbishop Mario Conti, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Glasgow, saying it was “difficult to imagine a more provocative and offensive abuse of Christian beliefs”.

“I was devastated,” says Clifford. “I was deeply, deeply upset that things had been turned upside down. It was a real shock.”

The response on the street, the tabloids and the internet – the majority of whom with no intention of seeing the play – was mostly negative, with people wishing Clifford “dead in all sorts of unpleasant and inventive ways, how much of a coward I was and how horrible it was going to be for me on the Day of Judgement.”

Meanwhile, those who saw it were moved by its message of inclusion and common humanity. Clifford wrote the play after a period re-reading the New Testament, she says.

“I hadn’t read it for years really, and to my surprise, I was profoundly moved by what I read, and profoundly moved by the figure of Jesus and what he said, what he did,” she says.

“A few years before I wrote it, I had started to live as a woman. I was a professor, I had been married for many years, I had two grown-up kids. I thought I was somebody in the world. But when I walked out in the street as a woman, people seemed to think they had every right to laugh at me in my face, to shout insults after me, threaten me with violence, talk about me in disparaging terms as if I wasn’t there.

“I became quite frightened to go out. At the same time, I was thinking it maybe it had something to do with the church.”

She continues: “It was so clear to me that Jesus was somebody who was always reaching out to people who were suffering prejudice, people who were downtrodden. Never would he sanction hate towards people like myself.

“Reading the New Testament reminded me of being a child and being taught that somehow Jesus was deep inside each one of us, and what we have to do is to try to be like him as best we can. I thought: ‘Well, supposing Jesus was a transwoman, what would she do, what would she say? How would she behave?’ The irony is that it was written because I was so impressed by Jesus, that I thought he needed to be celebrated.”

December 13 to 22 (not 17 & 18), Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 7.30pm, Dec 16 3pm, £15, £8 to £12 concs. Tel: 0131 228 1404. www.traverse.co.uk @jesusthequeen