Reduced Bible show cancelled in Northern Ireland after Christian protests

The Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Bible: The Complete Word of God
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A Northern Ireland theatre has cancelled performances of the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s latest production, The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) following protests by evangelical Christians and political figures.

The production – which was first staged in 1995 and nominated for a Helen Hayes award for outstanding new play following its debut American run – was due to begin a 60-venue national tour with two performances at the Theatre at the Mill in Newtownabbey, 10 miles north of Belfast, on January 29 and 30.

Protests against the show have been led by Democratic Unionist councillor Billy Ball who claimed that “for Christians, the Bible is the infallible word of God and it’s not something to be made fun of. These people are treating something sacred with irreverence and disrepect”.

In a meeting of the town council’s policy and governance committee earlier this week, Ball’s call for the show to be banned despite it having previously been sanctioned by its artistic board, was supported by 10 other DUP councillors and members of the Ulster Unionist Party.

Ball also warned: “My wife, councillor Audrey Ball, has recently been put on the artistic board, so I know that in future she will speak up for Christianity. Those against her strong views, better watch out”.

The company’s producer Davey Naylor said the show has toured internationally, had two runs in the West End, received the endorsement of “hundreds of clergy” and had recently been seen in Jerusalem without protest or controversy, adding: “Maybe Councillor Ball should come and see our show before denouncing it as unholy?”

In a statement released by the company, managing partner and the show’s co-writer Austin Tichenor said: “Our show is a celebration of all the great stories of the Bible. The theatre is our temple and we’re disappointed that people of all faiths will now not be able to gather at the Theatre at the Mill and lift their voices in communal laughter. We find it quite staggering that this type of censorship still appears to flourish in the UK. Thanks to everyone for the hundreds of messages of support we have received. It’s a shame these voices are drowned out by the few dissenting, uninformed ones”.

Theatre management have refused to comment on the cancellation, but a statement on the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s website said: “It is disappointing to hear that Theatre at the Mill has been forced to cancel The Reduced Shakespeare Company’s production of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)… a production by an acclaimed international company.

“The Arts Council firmly believes in the artist’s right to freedom of expression and would always defend an audience’s right to attend a show and make up their own mind on its value and merit. Often art is challenging to society’s values but it also allows space for discussion, debate and disagreement; this is its invaluable role and one which should be defended.”

The cancellation is expected to cost the theatre “around £2,000” with additional losses from anticipated ticket sales.