A comedy show about the Bible, which producers say has been endorsed by hundreds of clergy, has been axed from the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey amid claims it was anti-Christian .
The Reduced Shakespeare Company was due to kick off
its latest UK tour by presenting The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at the council-run venue. But earlier this month, calls for the show to be cancelled were made by DUP councillors.
The party's Robert Hill told UTV that members
of the public had approached representatives asking them to get it stopped on the grounds that it was offensive.
UUP Mayor Fraser Agnew also told UTV:
There were a lot of people concerned about the nature
of this play, that it was anti-Christian - and we have established indeed it was anti-Christian, he said.
I believe there's got to be some form of censorship, otherwise you'll have all sorts of things happening.
The show's producer Davey Naylor told UTV that the production had toured extensively around the world over the past 20 years. The company has even performed the show at the Jerusalem Festival in Israel without objection, he said, calling for
people to come and see it before branding it unholy. This is the very first time in the almost-20year life of the show that a performance has been cancelled because of the complaints of a few.
Playwright Austin Tichenor, co-author of the script
and one of the managing partners of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, said:
We find it quite staggering that this type of censorship still appears to flourish in the UK and would like to apologise to all the audience
members who bought tickets and are therefore unable to see the show. We'd also like to thank everyone for the hundreds of messages of support we have received. It's a shame these voices are drowned out by the few dissenting, uninformed ones.
Update: Comedian Jake O'Kane wades in
25th January 2013. See article from
bbc.co.uk . Thanks to Nick
One of NI's leading comedians has criticised the council zealots who have banned a play in County Antrim. Jake O'Kane said unionist councillors who took the decision weren't elected to be moral guardians . O'Kane said:
I haven't seen the play, and unfortunately I'll never be able to see the play because councillors have decided that we will not be allowed to see the play.
It's like getting in a time machine and they went back
to before the Reformation and the Enlightenment.
There was £ 7m spent on this theatre, it opened in 2010, and they may as well close the doors. If they are going to be the moral guardians
of what we see and don't see, that theatre is dead in the water.
We already have laws, we have hate speech laws, that dictate what the arts can and cannot do. If it is hateful, if it is against minorities, the laws are already
there to censor that.
We don't need a bunch of unionist councillors in Newtownabbey deciding what we can or cannot go to see.
They call themselves moral guardians - they weren't elected to be moral
guardians. We elected them to empty our bins, make sure the leisure centres were open - that's the powers they have.
They didn't put on their manifesto that they were going to decide what we can or cannot see.
Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International said:
It is well established in international human rights law that the right to freedom of expression, though not absolute, is a fundamental right which may only be restricted in certain limited circumstances to do with the
advocacy of hatred.
It is quite obvious that those circumstances are not met in the context of this work of comedy and thus that the cancelling of the play is utterly unjustified on human rights grounds.
Such interference with freedom of speech and artistic expression should be of concern to freedom lovers everywhere.
Update: Saddened by a culture of censorship
27th January 2013.See
article from u.tv
Culture and Arts Minister Caral Ni Chuilin has described the cancellation of a controversial play about the Bible as disappointing:
I was disappointed to hear of the decision to cancel the production of The Bible: The
complete Word of God (abridged). I know that the play has travelled extensively and been performed on the international stage for the past 20 years.
I am saddened that audiences here will not be offered the opportunity to see the
performance and judge for themselves the virtues of the show.
I fully support the views of the Arts Council that the artist's right to freedom of expression should always be defended and that the arts have a role in promoting
discussion and allowing space for disagreement and debate.
Update: Council shamed into revoking the ban
28th January 2013. See
article from theguardian.com
. Thanks to Nick
A ban on a play which was claimed to be blasphemous has been lifted by a council in Northern Ireland .
Members of the artistic board at Newtownabbey, Co Antrim reversed an earlier vote, allowing the Reduced Shakespeare Company to now stage The
Bible: The Complete Word of God at Theatre at the Mill, which is run by Newtownabbey borough council.
Councillors who backed the play claimed the ban made them look like a laughing stock.
Update: The inevitable
1st February 2013. See
70 fundamentalist Christian protesters made their voices heard at the second sold-out night of the controversial play The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged) .
Members of the Free Presbyterian Church sang hymns and passed out
leaflets at the entrance of the Theatre At The Mill in Newtownabbey as theatre-goers made their way to the play.
The protesters, led by Rev Brian McClung of the Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church, handed over a letter of protest to Newtownabbey
Borough Council. McClung described it as perverse human nature that the play had sold so many tickets since opposition was raised. He said:
Primarily we are here tonight to stand up for the honour of God's word.
We believe this play mocks the word of God.
We are offended because people are mocking the scriptures and we are here to show our offense. Supposedly the council and society is to have regard for minorities, but they don't seem to
have much regard for evangelical Christians when it comes to things like this.