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“Blasphemous” play cancelled in UK after protests by religious fundamentalists

Renowned theatre group has Bible show cancelled after complaints

By Padraig Reidy / 23 January, 2014

A Bible-based play by acclaimed comedy group The Reduced Shakespeare company has been pulled from the stage after protests from Christian fundamentalists.

According to UTV, the company was due to perform The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), at the Theatre At the Mill in Newtownabbey in Northern Ireland next week at the beginning of a UK tour. The RSC is famous for its fast-paced irreverent shows based on great texts. The group describes the Bible adaptation as “an affectionate, irreverent roller coaster ride from fig leaves to final judgement.”

But local politician Billy Ball, of Reverend Ian Paisley’s ruling Democratic Unionist Party, had called for the irreverent show to be banned. Ball is reported as saying:

 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 disrespect”

Mr Ball recently told the Belfast Telegraph:

“My wife, councillor Audrey Ball, has recently been put on the artistic board, so I know in future she will speak up for Christianity.

“Those against her strong beliefs better watch out.”

Today, the theatre announced via Twitter that the performances, scheduled for next weekend had been cancelled.


The theatre could not be contacted at time of publication. Alderman Ball confirmed to Index that the theatre had been in contact with him about the play, but declined to comment any further on the issue, saying he would make a statement at a council meeting on Monday after it had been cleared with his party.

UPDATE (16:oo). Newtownabbey Borough Council has issued a statement confirming the decision to cancel the performances:

At the Council’s Policy and Governance Committee on Monday 20 January concerns were raised by Elected Members who had received complaints from the general public about the content and nature of the show.

Yesterday the Council’s Artistic Board held a planned Away Day, to plan and develop a strategy for the Council’s future Arts Programme.  During the day, next week’s performance of ‘The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at the Theatre at the Mill was discussed by the Board.

Subsequently, the Chair of the Council’s Artistic Board, Councillor Billy Webb, has written to the Council’s Chief Executive, to confirm that, with great regret the Board has taken the decision to cancel next week’s production.

In taking this decision, the Board wishes to confirm its commitment to deliver on the agreed Council’s Artistic Policy “to deliver the highest quality performing arts programme, offering a diverse, socially relevant and enriching experience to as many citizens as possible”.

800 seats were available over the two nights and 150 tickets were sold , a 19% take up on tickets.

The approximate net costs of cancelling the show are £2000. Box Office staff are contacting ticket holders to advise them of the show’s cancellation and to apologise for any inconvenience caused. 

This article was published on 23 January 2014 at indexoncensorship.org


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About Padraig Reidy

Padraig Reidy Padraig Reidy is a columnist for Index on Censorship. He has also written for The Observer, The Guardian, and The Irish Times.

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