Newtownabbey council’s ‘great regret’ as Bible comedy play is banned

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

A controversial stage production deemed “offensive” to Christians has been cancelled after objections from a number of councillors.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) was due to be staged in the council-owned Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey next week.

A video trailer for the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s comedy 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 the Rev Brian McClung had called for the shows to be cancelled.

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

Commenting on news of the cancellation yesterday, DUP councillor Billy Ball said he was surprised the council’s Artistic Board decided to pull the plug on the production before the council had taken a vote on the matter.

Cllr Ball, who had campaigned to have the show cancelled, said: “I knew absolutely nothing except for an email I received this morning.

“I am pleased in one respect that the Artistic Board have taken on board the comments that have been made and, to our way of thinking, they have done the right thing.

“They listened to the voices of the people out there – the Christians within the Newtownabbey area.”

His DUP colleague Mandy Girvan, who is a member of the Free Presbyterian Church, had also called for a ban.

She said: “It shouldn’t be shown if it’s going against the Bible’s principles.”

Ulster Unionist mayor of Newtownabbey Fraser Agnew said: “As the guardians of all that is right in society we have got to take a stand somewhere and that is what happened in this instance.”

The two shows were scheduled to take place on January 29 and January 30.

In a statement, Newtownabbey council said it was with “great regret” that a decision had been taken to cancel on this occasion.

However, a spokeswoman added: “In taking this decision, the board wishes 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.”

Sinn Fein councillor Gerry O’Reilly said the decision to cancel was the worst type of censorship.

“This is clearly an example of certain councillors forcing their religious views onto everyone else in the constituency,” he said.

“What the councillors are basically saying is that they can dictate what type of dramas people can view.

“This is censorship at its worst and I have not heard the like since The Life Of Brian was banned in Belfast 25 years ago in 1979.”