The revelation that our council has been forced to withdraw a production by the highly regarded Reduced Shakespeare Company of its condensed version of the Bible is a huge embarrassment.
The decision by the Artistic Board, which books the performers for Theatre at The Mill, to withdraw the production came after a meeting of the council this month at which it was made clear by the DUP that it would act to cancel the production. The board, which has delegated authority in what it books for this council facility, bowed to the inevitable.
The theatre programme had previously been approved by the council, including this particular performance. DUP members, who had not seen the production, said that it was making a mockery of the Bible. During the course of an often ill tempered debate I raised the question of censorship and where this could go. The play was described by one who had not seen it as “crude and blasphemous”. It may have been irreverent but it is far from blasphemous and has played without objection to religious and other groups.
In a free society we should be allowed within the law to express our views and be able to receive the views of others, particularly in the field of the arts and in entertainment. I had booked tickets to see this show and am now being prevented from doing so by an intolerant fundamentalist party designed on imposing its views on others. One wonders where this sort of precedent will lead us - are we to be denied the opportunity to enjoy other comedies such as Father Ted or the Vicar of Dibley or indeed the Life of Brian?
Leaving aside the issues of principle there is the waste of money and the damage to the reputation of the council and its theatre as a result of this incident. Some of these issues are fundamental issues. Another event at the same theatre is the Orange Order Community Awards which , according to our website is “hosted by the Grand Master, Most Worshipful Brother Edward Stevenson”. The point was made in debate, and apparently fell on deaf ears, that there might be some who would regard this event as offensive. If those objectors were in a majority would they be entitled to ban this event because they felt entitled to impose their narrow minded views on others?
We have a long way to go as a society. As George Bernard Shaw said: “The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”
Cllr Tom Campbell