DUP councillors may have to pay to ban ‘offensive’ play

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) was banned from performing at the Theatre at The Mill in Newtownabbey.
The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) was banned from performing at the Theatre at The Mill in Newtownabbey.

DUP councillors in Newtownabbey will decide next week if banning a show deemed “offensive” to Christians is worth the cost of the financial penalties involved.

According to the DUP’s Billy Ball, his party members are backing a ban on the irreverent theatre production being staged in the council-owned Theatre at the Mill.

However, it is expected that a late-notice cancellation of ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)’ will result in a compensation payment being paid to the Reduced Theatre Company. The two shows are scheduled to take place on January 29 and January 30.

A video trailer on the theatre’s website describes the production as being “better than the book”. It goes on to say: “In the style of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, it’s juvenile but not blasphemous.”

Free Presbyterian minister Rev Brian McClung has also called for the shows to be cancelled.

He said the production was unacceptably hurtful to many Christians in the borough and that other religions would not be mocked in such a way.

“Some evidently think that the Bible can be treated in this disrespectful fashion and be uniquely singled out for special derogatory treatment,” he said.

On Monday night, a Newtownabbey Borough Council arts sub group met with the Policy and Governance committee to discuss a ban.

Speaking yesterday, Cllr Ball said a number of points were raised – including the likelihood of a surcharge being levied against those councillors voting for the show’s cancellation.

“It’s now going to be discussed at the full council meeting next Monday. The way the [council’s] chief executive was outlining it last night, there would be a cost if we withdrew it,” Cllr Ball said.

“The Alliance Party are looking for us to pay the surcharge – anyone who votes for a ban. The surcharge itself will come out of our own pockets.

“All of our colleagues in the DUP supported us last night. There are 12 DUP councillors but only ten were there last night as two are on holiday, plus we had support coming from the Ulster Unionist Party as well. There are one or two in the UUP that would be wavering and I can understand that, because once the word surcharge is spoken people start backing off.”

Cllr Ball said the ban was an important matter of principle and added: “In our case, what we are doing is just going for it, and if they surcharge us then so be it. As a born again believer, it doesn’t matter to me. They can do whatever they want.”

A spokeswoman for the Theatre at the Mill said the show was “a modern comedy which looks affectionately at biblical times”.

She added: “The artistic programme provided by the council aims to offer a diverse range of shows by leading arts performers with something for everyone.”