Belfast Telegraph

Bible play goes on in Newtownabbey... but only behind closed doors

By Amanda Ferguson

The farce over the cancellation of a spoof Bible play deepened last night as it emerged that the company behind the show will be on stage at the theatre in Northern Ireland next week.

But the public will not be able to see The Reduced Shakespeare Company as its rehearses The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (abridged) at the Theatre At The Mill in Newtownabbey.

Earlier this week it was revealed that two public performances of the play had been cancelled after concerns were raised by some unionist councillors that the content was blasphemous.

And last night a number of prominent figures, including comedian Tim Minchin and scientist Richard Dawkins, were critical of the decision by the council to cancel the performance. The company behind the show, Newbury Productions and Reduced, have told this paper that they have already booked flights and accommodation and intend to come to Newtownabbey as planned.

They will take to the stage at the Theatre At The Mill for technical and dress rehearsals ahead of the rest of a UK tour, which takes in more than 40 venues in England, Scotland and Wales.

Last night a spokeswoman for Newtownabbey Borough Council confirmed the public would not be permitted access to watch the rehearsals.

"As is normal practice, dress rehearsals are not open to the public," she added.

It has cost the council at least £2,000 to cancel the show.

Davey Naylor, general manager of Newbury Productions, told the Belfast Telegraph that tech and dress rehearsals will be taking place at Theatre At The Mill on January 29 and 30 as planned.

He said: "We will be there, we just won't be able to perform for the public at the theatre."

However, plans are afoot to stage the show somewhere in Northern Ireland later this year.

Mr Naylor confirmed that cast and crew were "very much looking into the possibility of coming back later in the spring".

"We have been overwhelmed with support. It really is very encouraging," he said.

A statement posted on the company's Facebook page last night said: "We have been deluged with postings, tweets, and emails of support from all around the world, and some exceptional statements of support from Tim Minchin, Amnesty International, Richard Dawkins and the Culture and Arts Minister for Northern Ireland."

Comedian Jake O'Kane told the Belfast Telegraph that all the council had done was generate additional interest in the play.

"They were not elected to do this. It's a lunatic decision. They are there to empty the bins and bury us when we are dead.

"From now on the theatre company will have emblazoned on their flyers 'As Banned in Northern Ireland', so more people will see this play than ever would have before." Meanwhile Patrick Corrigan, director of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland, said: "It is well-established in international human rights law that the right to freedom of expression, though not absolute, is a fundamental right which may only be restricted in certain limited circumstances to do with the 'advocacy of hatred'.

"It is quite obvious that those circumstances are not met in the context of this work of comedy and thus that the cancelling of the play is utterly unjustified on human rights grounds.

"Such interference with freedom of speech and artistic expression should be of concern to freedom lovers everywhere."

But Free Presbyterian Minister Rev Brian McClung insisted the right decision had been made.

He said: "There is the statement that the Reduced Shakespeare Company puts the fun in to fundamentalism and that's derogatory.

"I'm a fundamentalist and I can laugh and have fun – but not at sin. That's why we are opposed to it. I never said it was blasphemous.

"I'm saying this is derogatory and offensive to Christians and it's mocking the Bible.

"I don't think you have a right to be irreverent and mock the Bible and what people hold dear.

"There are limits to everything in life.

"The Bible says fools mock at sin, and who wants to be a fool?"

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