U-turn on Bible show ban by Newtownabbey Council

The Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey
The Theatre at the Mill, Newtownabbey

The ban on a Bible-based comedy show at a council-run theatre has been overturned by Newtownabbey councillors.

Following last week’s cancellation of ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)’ leading figures in the arts and entertainment world lambasted the council’s Artistic Board for preventing the two Theatre at The Mill performances going ahead.

However, the board had reluctantly taken the decision fearing the DUP-dominated council would vote to ban the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s irreverent comedy when they met last night – only two days before the first show.

Councillors who supported the staging claimed the decision to ban made them look like a laughing stock and there were bitter exchanges at Monday night’s council meeting when it was agreed the production should go ahead as scheduled on Wednesday.

Newtownabbey mayor Fraser Agnew said he supported the original decision to pull the plug.

He said: “You need to put this in context because they are poking fun at the Bible, they are poking fun at Christ.”

However, Speaking immediately following the meeting, Alliance councillor Billy Webb said the “image of Newtownabbey had been harmed”.

He added: “But I am determined, as a local representative and as the chair of the Artistic Board, that we will put that to rights.

“We have dedicated volunteers on that Artistic Board. They have expertise and they are keen that that expertise will be used for the benefit of the theatre.”

Austin Tichenor of the Reduced Shakespeare Company told the BBC he was thrilled the “Newtownabbey community can now come and see the show and see for themselves what kind of a show it is”.

Ahead of Monday’s council meeting the minister of Trinity Reformed Presbyterian Church, which is close to the Theatre at the Mill, wrote to Newtownabbey Council praising it for the original ban.

In the letter, Rev Warren Peel said: “The Bible’s authority is being increasingly ignored in our Province and we are reaping the bitter fruit of that carelessness.

“This kind of calculated irreverence exemplifies and undermines further people’s lack of respect for the word of God.”

Tickets for the two performances on Wednesday (29th) and Thursday (30th) go on sale on Tuesday morning.