Artistic Board axes controversial theatre show

A two-night run of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's production 'The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)' at Theatre at The Mill has been cancelled.
A two-night run of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's production 'The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)' at Theatre at The Mill has been cancelled.

Newtownabbey Council’s Artistic Board has cancelled a comedy show due to take place at Theatre at The Mill next week, following complaints that the production would be offensive to the borough’s Christian community.

The move to pull ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)’ comes after councillors and officers received correspondence from individuals and church leaders calling for the “blasphemous” show to be axed.

At Monday night’s Development Committee meeting, several councillors voiced their objection to the Reduced Shakespeare Company production taking place at the council-run venue. And there was significant support for a proposal from DUP councillor Audrey Ball calling for it to be cancelled.

Other members argued against “political censorship” of productions and a decision on the issue was deferred to allow council officers time to look at potential contractual and financial implications arising from stopping the show just days before the scheduled start of its two-night run.

Just two days after the issue divided the council chamber, the Artistic Board - a group of elected and independent members which agrees the programme of shows and events for the borough’s theatres - took the decision to pull the production.

Council chief executive Jacqui Dixon wrote to elected representatives on Thursday, January 23 advising them that, following discussions during an “away day” on Wednesday (January 22) to discuss the council’s future arts programme, the Board had cancelled the production.

The Times has obtained a copy of the correspondence, which states that the chairman of the Board, Cllr Billy Webb, wrote to Mrs Dixon saying the Board had taken the decision “with great regret”.

“In taking the decision, the Board wishes me to confirm its commitment to deliver on the agreed council’s Artistic Policy ‘to deliver the highest quality performing arts programme, offering a diverse, socially relevant and enriching experience to as many citizens as possible’,” the chief executive concluded.

Cllr Webb was unavailable for comment on Thursday morning.

However, his Alliance Party colleague, Cllr Tom Campbell, said he was “very disappointed” that the show had been cancelled.

“It’s very disappointing that pressure from the DUP has resulted in this decision having to be taken in order to avoid any further embarrassment to the council,” he commented.

But DUP Alderman Billy Ball said he was “very happy” that the Artistic Board had “seen sense”.

“It’s the right decision. They have done the right thing by everybody,” he said.

The Theatre at The Mill website confirms that the shows, scheduled to have taken place on January 29 and 30, have been cancelled.

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