Belfast Telegraph

Bible ban row play a joyous night of goofy gags

Our critic finds little to offend in The Bible: The Complete Word Of God

By Andrew Johnston

Last night the play-that-nearly-wasn't triumphantly was.

In banning The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged), Newtownabbey Borough Council scored a massive own goal.

Not only did it make Northern Ireland look like a parochial backwater in the eyes of the world, but both nights of the Reduced Shakespeare Company's spoof play had sold out within 24 hours of the ban being lifted on Monday.

The atmosphere at opening night was electric with people having travelled from all over the country to see what the fuss was about. And was it the blasphemous attack on Christianity – the "mocking of sin" – that some DUP members had accused it of being (without actually having seen it)?

Well, no, of course it wasn't.

It should be clear to anyone with a titter of wit that the show is a comedy, and an especially goofy one at that.

Even the title is a pun – and there were plenty more where that came from last night.

Gags about "The axe of the Apostles", Mary's "Holy sheet" and "denial being a river in Egypt" were as old as the good book itself, but they got the necessary chuckles.

Elsewhere there were touches of light satire (at one point, the Bible was referred to as "the greatest story ever accepted as fact"), and there were darkly jokey lines about the likes of masturbation, abortion and incest.

The two-hour show was mostly a frenetic concoction of slapstick, wordplay and silly songs, delivered with joyous abandon by the company's talented three-man team.

The events of the past week were referenced, notably in a bit on rejected Commandments, which included, "Thou shalt not ban the Reduced Shakespeare Company."

And when exploring the literalness on Abraham's infanticide of Isaac, the question was asked, "Why do all you fundamentalists have no sense of humour?"

The audience even got in on the act.

During a skit about the problem of there being two female ducks on the ark, one of the actors suggested they could adopt.

"Not here!" shouted a wag in the crowd. But it was all in good humour.

That The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged) made it to the stage is a victory for common sense, for free speech and for the arts.

It's a fantastically entertaining work in itself, taken to even greater heights by the surrounding furore. With a lively Q&A session afterwards, including a conciliatory contribution from the theatre's artistic chair, there was a definite sense of occasion about the evening.

Live theatre is alive and well in Newtownabbey – and ironically, we have Ulster's self-appointed moral guardians to at least partly thank for that.

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