The Reduced Shakespeare Company may have packed up their props and headed off on the next leg of their UK tour, but it seems the controversy sparked by their irreverent comedy ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)’ looks set to rumble on.
The production played to two packed houses at Theatre at The Mill last Wednesday and Thursday, but the argument continues over whether or not it should ever have been on the programme at the council-run venue.
The decision by the council’s artistic board to cancel the play following complaints from church representatives and local politicians sparked a media storm, with the council being accused of “political censorship” and branded “a laughing stock”.
When the board voted to reinstate the show just two days before it was due to open, members of the council who had objected originally merely “noted” the decision. However, a majority of members backed a DUP proposal that the board’s systems and procedures be reviewed.
The widespread publicity over claims that the play was “blasphemous” and should be banned helped ensure that it was a sell-out success.
On Thursday night, more than 50 evangelical Christian protesters, led by Rev Brian McClung from Newtownabbey Free Presbyterian Church, gathered outside the theatre to voice their objection to the staging of the Bible spoof, which they claimed “mocks the Word of God”.
None of the local DUP or UUP councillors who had called for the show to be axed were among the protesters.
During the demonstration, Rev McClung handed over a letter of protest to the theatre’s duty manager, Brian McMahon, asking that it be passed on to the chief executive and councillors.
The letter hits out at the board’s claim that it had “voted tactically to withdraw the play from the programme.”
Describing the move to reinstate the play as “reprehensible”, the letter claims that the earlier cancellation decision was “a cynical and purely tactical move.”
“How low some people have to stoop in order to get their way in mocking the Bible and grossly offending others. There is nothing honourable in this conduct! The action of those who took this decision has left in tatters any claims that Newtownabbey Council has any regard for minorities,” it states.
Also taking issue with the claim of a “tactical vote”, DUP Councillor Robert Hill said: “It appears that they have used their unaccountable positions to increase publicity around this play, with total disregard to the hurt this has caused to many residents of our borough. In so doing, I believe they have damaged the reputation of the theatre and this fully justifies our party’s call to have a total review of this unaccountable body.”
• Also pictured: Alderman John Blair, Cllr Billy Webb, chairman of the artistic board, and Cllr Tom Campbell were among the sell-out crowd on the opening night of ‘The Bible (abridged)’. They have denied that the show was blasphemous and accused those who tried to have the production banned of “political censorship.”