‘Surreal’ publicity over Bible comedy

Austin Tichborne of the Reduced Shakespeare Company  at The Theatre at the Mill in Newtonabbey
Austin Tichborne of the Reduced Shakespeare Company at The Theatre at the Mill in Newtonabbey

Tickets for a play slammed as being ‘blasphemous’ by a local council are now “down to the final few”, a co-author of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) said last night.

Austin Tichenor said “getting this amount of publicity about a performance has been a surreal experience”.

On Monday night Newtownabbey Council’s artistic board reversed an earlier decision to cancel the comedy planned to run tonight and tomorrow night.

Speaking during rehearsals in the council’s Theatre at The Mill, Mr Tichenor said: “Although what they tried to do was technically censorship by an official definition, we don’t feel we were the ones being censored.

“Our tour is going to go on and our script is published and available everywhere.

“But it was the people of Newtownabbey whose ability to choose for themselves, that was what was being censored.”

The playwright added that they “never set out to make anyone this upset or to cause a political firestorm that would be covered in the international media”.

“All we want to do is celebrate the Bible through silly sketches, a couple of songs and laughter,” he said.

“I honestly don’t understand what the objection is. We have been all over the UK and all over the world [with this play] and this is the first time in the 22 years I have been with the company that a production has ever been cancelled.

“And it is definitely the first time it has been cancelled and then restored. We have resurrected it.”

Mr Tichenor, who has previously helped produce shows in Northern Ireland, added that more dates may be made available to see the now controversial play, when their three-month tour ends.

“We are talking to several venues about extending the end of the tour,” he added. “We hope to do so. The people who were talking about the show, both pro and con, hadn’t seen it.

“I think there are going to be so many people laughing it will be outstanding. And what we are hoping to do after the two performances is a talkback with members of the audience.

“Speaking personally, I believe in a God who has a sense of humour because he made people with a sense of humour – and if you want proof of it witness the absurdity of the last couple of days.”

For further information on ticket sales, visit www.theatreatthemill.com or contact the box office on 028 9034 0202.

DUP councillors stay silent

DUP members of Newtownabbey Council were not available for comment yesterday as news of the reinstated Bible-based comedy topped the headlines.

UUP councillor for Newtownabbey Mark Cosgrave said: “The decision last week has been hugely damaging for the arts in Northern Ireland as well as Newtownabbey Council. And hopefully last night [Monday] was the first step towards reestablishing our reputation.”

Earlier DUP councillor Billy Ball, who had supported the ban, said: “A lot of people think we are against everything but we’re not. This particular subject matter was just beyond the pale.”