Belfast Telegraph

Second coming for play at centre of Bible row

By Amanda Ferguson

The controversial Reduced Shakespeare Company is heading back to Northern Ireland – despite sparking a censorship row of biblical proportions.

The stars of The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged) have not been put off performing here after being at the centre of a major row on Newtownabbey Borough Council which saw them axed from the stage and then reinstated.

Fans will be delighted, despite the furore, that the company has lined up two more performances later this year.

It will be on stage at the Waterside Theatre in Londonderry on April 30 and then at Newry Town Hall on May 6.

The comedy stage show – branded blasphemous and an attack on Christianity by the DUP – will also be performed in Drogheda, Cork, Waterford, Galway and Monaghan. Back in January, the two opening performances of its UK and Ireland tour went ahead at Newtownabbey's Theatre At The Mill after the council did a U-turn on an initial decision to ban it from performing. The play was reinstated in the face of outrage over the censorship.

Austin Tichenor, co-author of the play and co-managing partner of the RSC, told the Belfast Telegraph the censorship row earlier this year had done it no harm at all.

"Hey, we're not ashamed to admit it; the kerfuffles in Northern Ireland are the gift that keeps on giving," he said.

"Our near-banning in Newtownabbey generated international headlines, and we're thrilled that more people in both Northern Ireland and Eire will now get to see what all the fuss was about."

Meanwhile, play co-author and RSC co-managing partner Reed Martin added: "We are thrilled that we have been able to add so many more performances of The Bible: The Complete Word Of God (Abridged) in Ireland at this late date.

"Due to the unprecedented interest generated by the recent controversy in Northern Ireland the two performances in Newtownabbey were sold out. If you missed the show before, don't miss it this time!"

In January the council's artistic board had voted to cancel the play at an away day meeting, with no DUP members present.

All members, except one, reluctantly voted to pull the play as they felt they would be forced to resign if the matter went before the full council meeting, and that would leave the power to censor art in the borough in the control of the DUP.

At a full meeting of the council a decision was taken to reinstate the play and members voted to review the procedures of the artistic board, amid accusations from the Alliance Party of "censorship by the back door".

The Belfast Telegraph can reveal this ongoing review includes input from an independent consultant at a cost of around £3,000.

STORY SO FAR

After controversy and outrage over the banning of the play, the council's artistic board reversed its decision ahead of the full council meeting. Councillors voted to back this decision, allowing the production to go on. But the council also voted to undertake a review of the artistic board's governance arrangements – a move which has prompted fears of "censorship by the back door". The DUP issued a statement saying blame for the initial ban lay with the artistic board.

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