A controversial play about the Bible which was axed from Newtownabbey’s Theatre at The Mill following objections from DUP councillors has been reinstated.
There was a huge public outcry last week after the council’s artistic board bowed to political pressure and took the decision to cancel the show.
That move sparked widespread criticism of the council, with some branding the local authority “a laughing stock”.
At a meeting of the council on Monday night, the DUP “noted” a decision by the artistic board to reinstate the play, despite claims from some of its members that the show is “blasphemous” and “offensive” to Christians.
A statement read by Cllr Pamela Barr sought to distance the party from the earlier decision taken by the board to cancel the two-night run of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged).
“The decision to cancel the event was event was taken by the artistic board, which is made up of 17 people. Six of those on the board are elected representatives, two of whom are Democratic Unionists. When the decision to cancel the performance was made, neither DUP representative was at the meeting,” Cllr Barr said.
It’s understood that DUP members Cllr Audrey Ball and Cllr Thomas Hogg voted against the play being reinstated when the artistic board met before Monday’s full council meeting.
The DUP’s attempt to distance itself from the controversy was criticised by members across the chamber, with Alliance Alderman John Blair branding DUP members “continuity Paisleyites who want to take us back to the Dark Ages.”
The UUP’s John Scott described the move to cancel the play as “the biggest PR disaster in the history of the council” and pointed the finger of blame at DUP members who brought the motion to last week’s committee meeting calling for the show to be axed.
Cllr Billy Webb, chairman of the artistic board, accused DUP members of trying to deflect blame from themselves onto the Alliance Party, describing their stance as “a scurrilous turnaround”. He stressed that artistic board had been put in “an almost impossible position” by he proposal put forward by Cllr Audrey Ball at last week’s Policy and Governance Committee meeting.
A motion from UUP man Mark Cosgrove that “the artistic board alone should decide on the artistic content of the theatre” in future was defeated after a tied vote (11 - 11).
A proposal from DUP Cllr Tim Girvan that the council should review the procedures used by the artistic board when making decisions about which productions are put on at the borough’s theatres was passed by 12 votes to 10.
Following the meeting, Cllr Webb said he was “particularly delighted” that the show will go on.
“The original decision taken by the board was taken under great political pressure from the DUP, so this is the right decision now and I am delighted that this has gone through.”
The move to reinstate the show has been welcomed by the Reduced Shakespeare Company and members of the wider arts community, but slammed by representatives of several local churches and religious organisations.
The show will take place at Theatre at The Mill on Wednesday and Thursday as originally scheduled.
• Full story and reaction in this week’s Times