Balls: The New Holy Land Is in Newtownabbey

The Reduced Shakespeare Company was scheduled to perform their production oftwice this month at The Mill Theatre in Newtownabbey, just outside Belfast. A week before it was scheduled, the local council 'persuaded' the artistic board to cancel the performances.

I really don't know where to start on this one. So I'm just going to start with the facts.

Don't worry. This is not an piece about religion. God knows, there has been enough of them from Northern Ireland.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company was scheduled to perform their production of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) twice this month at The Mill Theatre in Newtownabbey, just outside Belfast. A week before it was scheduled, the local council "persuaded" the artistic board to cancel the performances.

Now, I haven't seen The Bible:The Complete Word of God (Abridged). So I know I'm in exactly the same position as every other councillor in Newtownabbey to have a say on this.

The main people in question seem to be Evangelical Christian Democratic Unionist councillors, husband and wife duo, Audrey and Billy Ball (great name). Billy said, "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".

When I read this statement (and his name) I felt the attitude of The Balls stems from something deeper in their psyche which Mr Ball has had to deal with for a very long time in which he may have used a similar statement before. "For Balls, their name is the infallible name of their parents and it's not something to be made fun of. People are treating something sacred with irreverence and disrespect." But who am I to judge their insecurities. Back to the matter in hand.

Firstly, God didn't write the Bible himself, but that's another argument all together.

Secondly the big questions that arise in the production are:

Did Adam and Eve have navels? Did Moses really look like Charlton Heston? And why isn't the word 'phonetic' spelled the way it sounds?

All great points that don't for one second diminish any Christians beliefs or standpoints.

Thirdly, lots of people treat the Bible with irreverence and disrespect depending on what you believe the Bible actually teaches. But this doesn't mean you can run around punishing them or taking away their freedom of speech because they don't agree with you. I wonder if The Balls would like to bring back stoning? We could call it "Balling" out of respect and to keep it relevant.

My nursey school was just around the corner from the Mill Theatre, so I know the area very well. However, I moved away from Northern Ireland over 10 years ago and have been living in London as an actor ever since.

One of the reasons I moved away was because there wasn't a lot of theatre being made in Northern Ireland, and any of the current stuff that was being made was finding it difficult to get people through the door unless it was a production of something that had been done 100 times before. In my short career as a child actor in Northern Ireland the one thing I did which attracted the biggest audience, besides a pantomime, was the musical, Oliver! A lovely production but hardly breaking theatrical barriers.

I love when I come back to Northern Ireland and see how much it has progressed since I was a boy. The city of Belfast is a hub of activity. Tourism has been boosted, it has become a place where many people from around the UK want to visit for long weekends. The Lyric Theatre's redevelopment is wonderful, not to mention the Northern Ireland film industry which has gone from strength to strength.

So to find that this circus act has become the latest cultural advert for our country around Europe is deeply frustrating and reminds me why I moved away. Don't get me wrong, I love the place that I was born and all the things it has given me. But to find that things like this still happen in the 21st Century embarrasses me, as I'm sure it does the rest of the country.

The play is called The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) and it is clearly labelled as a comedy. I understand people don't want their beliefs to be made fun of - well then don't go and see it. In Northern Ireland we had a sitcom called Give My Head Peace in the 90s. I watched it as I was growing up. It openly poked fun at Protestants and Catholics and was the most popular thing on TV in Northern Ireland at one point. I don't see why this 'poking' is any different.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (Abridged) production has been to Jerusalem. Now, I think, of all the places in the world, Jerusalem probably has first dibs on being upset about someone poking fun at the Bible. The production went ahead without a hitch. So to hear Newtownabbey claiming to be more offended than Jerusalem is preposterous.

The Book of Mormon is a Broadway and West End musical which openly pokes fun at... you got it The Book of Mormon. Throughout the tube station next to the production, every wall and escalator was covered in adverts for people to become a Mormon. I originally thought this was a joke - but it wasn't. They had obviously come to the conclusion that they either fought it or embraced it. So they embraced it and gained lots of free PR in the process. Whatever you think about Mormons, to embrace it the way they did definitely has to give them some kudos.

Now, I'm not saying that the local area of Mossley should have adverts on every street corner for "The Bible @" but at least embrace the fact that other people look at things differently and don't diminish it as wrong simply because it is different.

I'm mostly disappointed in the 'independent artistic board' that made the final decision to cave in the face of this laughable pressure and give up the local communities right to choose what they see and hear. The chief executive said, "In taking the decision, the board wishes me 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'."

It seems he left the meeting with a file and got his statement mixed up with the opposing argument and put it together like a patch work quilt to try and keep everyone happy.

The words "diverse", "socially relevant" and "enriching experience" are the opposite of what has just happened at The Mill Theatre.

The Reduced Shakespeare Company are the winners in this. They get a few well deserved nights off from their tour, whilst still getting paid by the same council that was so offended by them. On top of that they get the sort of press and publicity they could only dream of, for free!

They will be toasting The Balls tonight

It's a shame that the board didn't have the balls to stand up to The Balls.


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