Spirituality, Faith and Belief, Greyfriars Kirk, Review

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Edinburgh Festival of the Sacred Arts
Voyages of Discovery
Alison Jack & Samuel Tongue (hosts); Rob Mackenzie, Jo Clifford & Mendha Singh (performers)
Running time

This was a thought-provoking evening, exploring the inspiration behind the literary works of three contemporary poets.

Alison Jack (Principal of New College) and Samule Tongue (award-winning poet) hosted and chaired the evening. It was split into two halves, where first we heard extracts from the various performers’ works, followed by a panel discussion after the Interval.

Rob Mackenzie was first up, and gave us a selection of poetry about making connections – finding the sacred amongst the chaos, in the clutter and confusion of the city. Unfortunately, the sound system meant that few of us could actually hear what was being said – which was particularly unfortunate for a poetry recital. This was also the case with the third poet, Mendha Singh. Her opening work was about the hiddenness – but prevalence – of God, even in seemingly secular times.

Both of these poets seemed overly reliant on the books being read from – none of the works were particularly long, and it may have been better if these could have been committed to memory.

Jo Clifford, the central act, presented part of her ‘Gospel according to Jesus – Queen of Heaven’. The work has been widely translated and performed – indeed across the world. It is based on Jesus coming back to earth as a trans-woman, and picks up on such themes as embodying dishonour as a privilege, the last being first (and the first, last), and Christ returning to stand before those with hearts marred by hatred.

In the discussion that followed, the point was oft made by the panel that religion historically strives to marshal the evidence behind pre-determined conclusions. However, the panel never seemed to get much beyond this themselves – while giving a passionate defence of progressive liberalism, the ‘inclusiveness’ they advanced made little room, it seemed, for those with differing views.

There was something somewhat uncomfortable about this event being held in a church – but what is the Fringe if it can’t be controversial, and further push the boundaries. However, the main problems with this performance concerned the audibility in the first half, and the discussion in the second – where the panellists didn’t untangle the knots in the debate. 

The performance finished at 9.05pm.

Spirituality, Faith and Belief: Voyages of Discovery, Tuesday 15th August, Greyfriars Kirk, 7.30pm