Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Bible spoof play ban makes Northern Ireland a laughing stock

No show: notice on the theatre's website
The members of the Reduced Shakespeare Company promoting their new comedy show which condenses the Bible. Their planned performance in Newtownabbey has been cancelled

THE decision by Newtownabbey Borough Council to cancel the Reduced Shakespeare Company's light-hearted revue of the Bible gives religion a bad name.

It also underlines the backwoods narrow-mindedness of some people in Northern Ireland as it begins to show a more multi-cultural face to the world.

We must ask ourselves where else would this happen, except among the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Surely God must have a sense of humour – how else could he put up with the numpties of Newtownabbey?

Some DUP councillors claim that The Complete Word of God (Abridged) is blasphemous.

But instead of showing the courage to back the play and allow people to judge it for themselves, the council has buckled under pressure from a vocal minority and has become a laughing stock.

This is nothing new in a province where religion is used as a tribal and political label. When the hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar first appeared, DUP councillors and others picketed the performances, then rolled up their banners and went home, while the producers gleefully welcomed the bigger audiences which the publicity had attracted.

Not so Newtownabbey council, which has backed itself into a theological cul-de-sac on the grounds of 'blasphemy', whatever that means. One man's blasphemy might mean another man's appreciation of a new angle on the Bible. The show's producers claim that it is "an affectionate, irreverent roller-coaster ride from fig leaves to final judgment."

I have seen the same company's productions of Shakespeare's 'reduced plays', which could have offended literary purists but which only enhanced my regard for the playwright, and my reaction to the website version of the 'reduced Bible' was similar. It is funny, but certainly not offensive to anyone secure in their faith.

The play itself tackles some 'deep' theological questions such as, 'Did Moses really look like Charlton Heston' and, 'Did Adam and Eve have navels?' It shows how serious it all is.

Narrow-minded people almost always confuse satire with blasphemy, but anyone who has seen even The Vicar of Dibley quickly realises that these are criticisms of the absurdities within religion, but not an attack on faith itself.

Newtownabbey council has got its dramatic pantaloons in a twist, and shows itself to be utterly devoid of humour. It has also turned the old Press maxim 'publish and be damned' into something much funnier and more idiotic: 'Don't publish but be damned anyhow.'

If all of this were not so utterly depressing and sad, it would make a good sketch in the new stage version of Monty Python...

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