Theatre ban is lambasted by the arts world

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

The decision to ban a Bible-based comedy show from council property in Newtownabbey has reverberated around the world.

Following last week’s cancellation of ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged)’ leading figures in the arts and entertainment world, as well as commentators on religious affairs, have ridiculed those who prevented the two Theatre at The Mill performances.

However, Newtownabbey mayor Fraser Agnew said he supported the council Artistic Board’s 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.”

Richard Dawkins was among several high-profile critics of the decision and circulated press reports of the story to his 885,000 followers on Twitter.

Author of the 2006 book ‘The God Delusion’, Dawkins posted the message: “Play cancelled because of ‘offence’? Don’t deny offence but proudly say it’s irrelevant. Those offended can stay away.”

Australian musician, comedian and writer Tim Minchin also expressed his disgust to his 680,000 followers on Twitter. He said: “Oh, cool, a political party in N Ireland run by 4-yr-olds. Good publicity for excellent Reduced Shakespeare Company.”

In the US, radio talk show host Paul Harris interviewed RSC performer Austin Tichenor about the show’s cancellation.

Mr Tichenor said: “Our script celebrates the Bible. I disagree with how many churches interpret it but have never once called for them to be censored.”

The production is booked to play 42 venues across the UK and the RSC claims there have been no other complaints.

One of those who responded online to the radio interview said: “I am an Irish Christian who loved your show when I saw it in Dublin. We are not all idiots, honestly.”

Writing in the Sunday Life yesterday, Belfast comedy actor Dan Gordon said there were no winners in the “unholy mess”. He said many people now consider those opposed to the show as “a pack of tight wee intolerant extremists”.

Formed in 1981 in the US, the Reduced Shakespeare Company acting troupe describes itself as “three cultural guerrillas ... performing fast-paced, seemingly improvisational condensations of huge topics”.

Advance publicity for the January 29 and January 30 shows in Newtownabbey said: “Whether you are Catholic or Atheist, Muslim or Jew, Protestant or Purple People Eater, you will be tickled by the RSC’s romp through old time religion.”