Playwright Nelly Kelly reflects on 10 years of the groundbreaking piece of theatre, and an extraordinary twist of fate

BY NELLY KELLY

I can still remember the day I read The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen Of Heaven.

I was sitting on the floor propped against the single bed in my mum’s box room, having recently moved back to Glasgow after my undergrad degree. I wouldn’t come to the realisation that I was a trans non-binary person until a couple of years later. I remember it so vividly because I’d never felt so seen by a work of theatre up until that point. 

This play was written by the ground-breaking trans playwright, Jo Clifford with a trans Jesus at the centre of it.

Jo Clifford in The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen Of Heaven
Photo by Aly Wight

Having stumbled upon this script at a script sale in the Tron Theatre upon my return to Glasgow in 2014, it seems an extraordinary turn of fate that I should now be writing Untitled 2009to be performed by a cast of six trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming actors at the Tron for the 10th anniversary of The Gospel According To Jesus, Queen Of Heaven.

Having trans and non-binary people seeing themselves well reflected in art and media, now more than ever, is exceedingly vital. As a result of proposed reforms to the Gender Recognition Act, across the United Kingdom we have seen a spike it defamatory reporting in the media of the lives and experiences of trans and non-binary people. 

Playwright Nelly Kelly

This spike in anti-trans sentiment has perpetuated the idea that basic human rights for trans people are open to debate, which leaves people like myself constantly having to fight for our right to exist and to take up space in this world. To take up space in a society often trying to put us in smaller and smaller boxes is an active refusal to accept that we deserve any less than to be treated as equals, a call-to-arms for voices like ours that deserve to be heard.

Untitled 2009 is based on a Bible that was put on display at the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow in 2009 by the Metropolitan Community Church as part of an LGBTQIA+ people of faith exhibition Made In God’s Image. The provocation that accompanied this exhibit was, “If you feel you’ve been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it”. And for me, making work for theatre has such a similar provocation.

Untitled 2009 is a play about unapologetically being yourself whilst celebrating the right of others to their own means of autonomy and self-expression that don’t infringe on the rights of others, and staging the play with a full cast of trans and non-binary performers felt so exciting to me because it allowed for a truly authentic representation of trans lives and bodies onstage. This serves as a reminder that there is no lack of talented trans performers, whilst highlighting that there is however a huge void in their opportunity to perform as themselves on stage. 

Saerlaith Robyn McQuaid-O’Dwyer, who stars in Untitled 2009

Recently, when reaching out to people to come and see the show, several of the cast members highlighted the need for there to be trans roles for trans performers. One example being by Saerlaith Robyn McQuaid-O’Dwyer: “It’s my first time acting in a long time, basically since I transitioned and I’ve really missed it.”

Goose Masondo gave another: “I came out as [non-binary] publicly a few months ago. Despite being sure of my non-cis-ness for a long time before that, and an embarrassingly large reason for me not coming out sooner is that I love performing, and I couldn’t see a place for myself outside of drag acts and cabarets. 

“For a long time, I wasn’t prepared to trade something I love doing and am good at doing for being honest about myself – I had gotten used to being dishonest and uncomfortable anyway, so it didn’t make much of a difference.

“This show might be a complete outlier, and it might be the only gig I ever get where I don’t have to pretend to be a woman or a small boy, and that shouldn’t be accepted. 

“However, in the last few months alone I’ve gone from beating myself senseless into an identity I didn’t belong to because I was convinced no one would take me seriously otherwise, to making my professional debut (!!) in a show explicitly and apologetically about how ((my)) transness, queerness, genderless-ness and multiplicity of gender is sacred.”

Goose Masondo

Some of the most exciting, engaging, challenging and revolutionary work I have ever come across has been in the darkened underground rooms of bars and nightclubs, at events like Glasgow’s Queer Theory, that unapologetically celebrate and give space to trans performers. 

In spite of everything, the trans and non-binary performers that I have had the joy of witnessing and working with seem to always be able to radiate a love and care for the community around them in a way that projects out and envelops an audience. It is high time that we refuse to accept these artists seeing little space for themselves outside of drag and cabaret and start embracing them in our theatres on our TV sets and in our mainstream literature.

Queen Jesus Productions presents The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven 10th Anniversary

Wednesday 30 October to Saturday 2 November 2019

Tron Theatre Ltd, 63 Trongate, Glasgow, G1 5HB

Programme

O Evangelho Segundo Jesus, Raihna do Ceu

Brazil, Queen Jesus Productions + Queen Jesus Plays Br

7.45pm, 30 October 2019

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven

UK, Queen Jesus Productions In Association With The Tron Theatre Company

7.45pm, 31 October – 2 November 2019

Untitled 2009

UK, Queen Jesus Productions + Outspoken Arts Scotland

2.30pm, 2 November 2019

To book, visit tron.co.uk/whatson or call 0141 552 426. 

queenjesusproductions.com

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