Northern Irish council backtracks on Bible play ban

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Bible: The Complete Word of God
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A Northern Irish borough council has reversed its ban on the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s The Bible: the Complete Word of God (Abridged), allowing scheduled performances in Newtownabbey’s Theatre at the Mill later this week to go ahead as planned.

The abrupt change of mind by the County Antrim council follows wide-spread condemnation at home and abroad of its original decision last Monday to prevent advertised performances because of claims the play was blasphemous and critical of the Bible. One councillor described it as “the worst PR disaster ever to befall the council.”

The council’s deputy lord mayor Dineen Walker is believed to have led the challenge to her Democratic Unionist and Ulster Unionist colleagues who argued for the ban at last night’s weekly council meeting by insisting the banning of theatre performances fell outside the council’s remit.

“I do believe in God, but I am not a practicing Christian. I personally wouldn’t have gone to see the play, but I don’t think, as elected representatives, we should be pointing the finger at anyone or should be censoring things like this. It’s not a council’s responsibility to do it.”

The show’s co-writer Austin Tichenor told the BBC he was delighted the “Newtownabbey community can now come see the show and decide for themselves what kind of a show it is.”

He added: “My biggest fear is that they’ll come see the show and go ‘this is what all the fuss was about?’ I think people assume we're coming from a place of hatred and mockery and we're absolutely not. This is a celebration of the Bible and I think anybody who has seen the show, and many people of all faiths have seen the show, testify to that effect.”

The performances tomorrow and Thursday (January 29 and 30) at the theatre – which launch a national tour of the show – will now go ahead as planned.