After losing its Shakespearean plot Newtownabbey returns to the 21st Century…

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So, a good result for the Reduced Shakespeare Company in Newtownabbey. Excellent nationwide publicity right at the start of a tour, and the gig back to boot! Along with the backing of the DUP Deputy Mayor.

Anyone who’s ever worked in the arts knows just how jumpy and fickle the local arts administration can get in their dealing with political parties, and the reputation of the DUP’s Biblers is second to none.

For all the fulminating over the weekend, it’s still not clear who was involved or how this decision was made by the council’s artistic board where non politicians outnumber councillors 10-7.

It was done on an away day, which begs the question who was ‘away’, and who wasn’t? Was there even a quorum?

Such cancellations are a more regular than most people suppose. On the offence rate the RSC would score something like a two or a three compared to some of the more racy content on the circuit.

Cancelling a booking and censorship are actually different things. Until the 1968 Theatre Act the Lord Chamberlain had the statutory authority to veto the performance of any new plays.

In his 1969 review Oh! Calcutta! Ken Tynan cocked his leg on those vanished powers. In Ireland we had The Committee On Evil Literature, and the Irish Film Censor’s Office:

On the subject of the 1935 British film Father O’Flynn, Mr Montgomery commented: “Reel one might be called ‘stage Irish’, but the girl dancing on the village green shows more leg than I’ve seen on any village green in Ireland. Better amputate them.”

Last year there was a failed attempt in the Dail to abolish the Censorship of Publications Board (which has had no members since 2011). More to the point, Micheal Martin then Minister of Foreign Affairs in the last Irish administration had this to say on the subject of blasphemy and censorship:

“We believe that the concept of defamation of religion is not consistent with the promotion and protection of human rights. It can be used to justify arbitrary limitations on, or the denial of, freedom of expression.

Indeed, Ireland considers that freedom of expression is a key and inherent element in the manifestation of freedom of thought and conscience and as such is complementary to freedom of religion or belief.”

Welcome back to the 21st Century Newtownabbey…

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  • Coll Ciotach

    All rubbish from liberalism, of course the council should be allowed to control what happens in its premises, the DUP of whom I am no friend, took their ire on this occasion but it is obvious that the committee in question was not controlled by them and perhaps reflects the view of the people of the area.

    Pity they buckled under the pressure.

    Wonder when a Black and White minstrel show will be performed?

  • Son of Strongbow

    Perhaps Shakespeare himself saw this coming?

    “If we shadows have offended
    Think but this, and all is mended,
    That you have but slumber’d here
    While these visions did appear.”

    Anyway I hear that it’s now approaching a full house for the performances. Could it all have been a marketing ploy by the council? After all the DUP do know the value of a pound.

  • Coll Ciotach

    I see you are still pushing that the DUP was at fault

  • Mick Fealty

    CC,

    I personally DO think we should be told. :-)

  • Coll Ciotach

    Told what Mick – when the Black and White minstrels are being performed?

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    As I have said before….we are in the Pre-Conflict Days of the 1960s.
    A Decade of Half Centenaries.
    This is the Sunday Swings all over again.
    While people are said to be apathetic, this is the kinda issue that motivates people. It is likely that some fundamentalists in DUP will use this issue in May.

  • Reader

    fitzjameshorse1745: It is likely that some fundamentalists in DUP will use this issue in May.
    Only if they want to lose votes. Isn’t it much more likely it will be used by their opponents? Just like the first discussion on Slugger was!

  • Morpheus

    It’s great to see the DUP leading the charge to prevent the good people of Northern Ireland from being offended. I can’t wait to see what steps they are going to take this marching season to prevent people from being offended.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Indeed.
    Extremely likely that DUP FUNDAMENTALISTS will use the issue. And extremely likely that some secular DUP will not.
    Just like the mid 1960s when the swings issue appealed to fundamentalists and liberal unionists wished it would go away.
    The DUP are the Unionist party these days.

    Equally likely that some secular secularists in and around UUJ will get all worked up about it.
    Probably some so called Independents will do well out of it.
    Both will get the core vote out.
    It has the potential to keep the pre Conflict pot boiling.

  • babyface finlayson

    I believe Flann O’Brien tried to get ‘The Hard Life’ banned in the hope it would increase interest in it.
    Surely this is a similar ploy by the RSC or the Theatre at the Mill. A cunning plan.

  • BluesJazz

    Belfast City Council banned the film “Emmanuelle” in the 1970′s. However a redeeming feature of their behavior was at least they were granted a private screening of the film so they could save the good citizens of the city from the depravity they had witnessed. I believe “Caligula” and “Insatiable” met the same fate.
    One had to travel to the Tonic in Bangor (liberal North Down) for such cinema treats.

  • Mick Fealty

    It strikes me that how this issue has played itself out is instructive of the effect that representative politics has on politicians. It forces them into broader sense of who they must represent. (This works less obviously for SF whose northern reps are paid by the party rather than the body they are elected to).

    I think that the pre troubles era is a poor analogy with what’s happening now. As a kid back then I was always clear that you did not call on your Presbyterian/Anglican mates on a Sunday, not because they were religious but because it was always a day for them to stay at home with their families, whilst we’d go out charging round what passed for a Gaelic pitch in those days.

    Locking the playground up was not so much a religious thing (not in Holywood any way) so much a public culture thing. It later became associated with the DUP because as uber social conservatives they found themselves on a long slow and losing battle with a rising generational tide of liberal ecumenism.

    On Coll C’s original point, I agree. Councils provide the money councils should have a say on how it is spent. But as this case highlights cracking that whip too hard can hurt too.

    More generally, although what’s happened since Tynan’s time (and to be fair for some time before) is that theatre’s resiled from having important things to say about life, politics and the way we led our social lives, to pure entertainment. I’m also not sure how good for its soul it is to rely so heavily on state/council backing.

    France is generous with its state funds to the arts because it’s written into the DNA of its various republics. I don’t what effect that’s had on the radicalism of its output.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Coll Ciotach,

    All rubbish from liberalism, of course the council should be allowed to control what happens in its premises, the DUP of whom I am no friend, took their ire on this occasion but it is obvious that the committee in question was not controlled by them and perhaps reflects the view of the people of the area.

    For someone who is not a friend of the DUP you seem to have no problem uncritically repeating not only their perspective of the offensive nature of the production (exactly what is blasphemous about it?) but also their wilful misrepresentation of the sequence of events that led to it being cancelled. Let me clear things up for you.

    A full two weeks before the cancellation DUP councillor W. Ball appeared in the Newtownabbey Times on 9th January complaining about the production. As you can clearly read in the article, he called on the board to pull the production after they had already approved it to go ahead.

    So the question therefore must be why the Artistic Board reversed its previous decision and pulled the play. The answer to that is that DUP councillors made various threats behind the scenes that if the Board did not pull the play they would force a motion through the council removing the Board’s powers over which productions are shown at the theatre. DUP councillors themselves received several hundred emails (other councillors also received emails, but not quite so many) in what was clearly an orchestrated mass-mailing campaign asking them to get the play stopped.

    Now, in my opinion the board should have stood their ground and forced the DUP to bring the issue to council, but unfortunately they didn’t. That is why the DUP are claiming that their hands are clean. But the fact is that their hands are not clean. The DUP raised this issue in the media; the DUP applied the pressure to councillors to get it cancelled (and publicly admitted that they planned to do so); the DUP’s own representatives appeared in the media to justify the cancellation (comparing it to a sex show!).

    I recommend in future that you do some cursory research before you accept anything the DUP say in public as fact. Just because they agree with you on abortion doesn’t mean they are sound on everything else – quite the opposite.

    Now that we’ve cleared that up, I could do with hearing your view (rather than the Free Presbyterian Church view) on exactly what is so harmful about the play. I’d also be interested in hearing whether you think that any kind of victory has been scored here given that the effort to ban the play resulted in it gaining exposure and publicity of the kind that money can’t buy. I hope you and your pals in the DUP plan to go on raising the profile of such things in the future.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    The straw man notion that the council has been denied a say over what events it may or may not hold is being flagged up by those who are presenting a misleading view on the events that took place.

    The council continues to assert control over the theatre and what is shown in it via it’s Artistic Board (although, ominously, the DUP amended the council motion last night to include a review of the board’s functioning – which means that this battle isn’t over yet).

    This debate here is about the criterion that the council can justifiably apply when it is making those decisions. Blasphemy against any religion, I don’t care which, is not an acceptable criteria to ban anything. Apart from the sheer ridiculousness of it all, it is almost certainly not lawful and had the matter gone to a full council session, councillors would have had to weigh up the prospect of being surcharged over the costs that would have been incurred by the council following with the production’s cancellation. As we so often find out, DUP councillors who are first to beat a path to the pulpit are nowhere to be found when there is a pecuniary disadvantage to their doing so.

  • Reader

    Comrade Stalin: (although, ominously, the DUP amended the council motion last night to include a review of the board’s functioning – which means that this battle isn’t over yet) … councillors would have had to weigh up the prospect of being surcharged over the costs that would have been incurred by the council following with the production’s cancellation
    Do the two quotes above mean you suspect the DUP councillors are planning to punish the board members for not throwing themselves under the wheels of the law? Surely the delegation of matters to the board tends to insulate the councillors from the legal consequences of their behaviour?
    Is it not more likely that wiser heads prevailed among the DUP councillors, making a decision that spares them further embarrassment? (“wiser” being a purely relative term in this case.)

  • Comrade Stalin

    Reader,

    If the DUP are able to get the committee abolished and prevent productions from being agreed in the first place (as opposed to cancelling productions that have already been agreed) then there will be no cancellation charges to the council and as such no risk of surcharge. There may be a risk of legal action and the council has solicitors to advise them over such matters. Of course if a solicitor advises them that they are breaking the law over their choices of what productions they agree or do not agree to, then it will get interesting.

    Yes I’d say the DUP came under pressure from above (not the Lord himself, but the next best thing namely the Rt Hon Peter Robinson) in connection with the bad PR they were getting.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well CS, let’s cross that committee bridge when it comes to it, shall we?

    Every councillor has his/her breaking point. And the arts sometimes can put it up to them (which is quite often ‘a good thing’ in a society where not much is rarely put up to not many in authority).

    I’ve encountered some pretty brittle Labour councillors in Doncaster back in the day. And when they freak, boy they can they freak big time.

    Can’t see the RSC looking back after this one, and I suspect the council will think twice again before intervening. I also detected a delicacy in the way Dan Gordon handled himself on Nolan the other day.

    Besides, how long will NBC continue to function in this world?

  • Charles_Gould

    FJH

    What you say above may be true but I offer a little factoid:

    In the 1980s the DUP banned ELO from Ballymena; it was quite famous and embarrassing for Balymena people. In the next election the DUP lost control of the council to the UUP on a backlash against them

  • Comrade Stalin

    I’ve encountered some pretty brittle Labour councillors in Doncaster back in the day. And when they freak, boy they can they freak big time.

    I’m not sure where you’re going with the breaking point thing.

    This is about DUP politicians puffing out their chests and telling a section of a section of a community that they are protecting their interests and standing up to the blasphemers. It is about an exposition of piousness.

    The fact that their tactics do not actually work is not the point – it’s about being seen to be taking a stand. This is repeated in every other venue where the DUP operate – flegs; abortion; gay marriage; blood donors; all the rest. They may know that legally or procedurally they cannot succeed – but they’ll waste public money and the risk of backfiring in exchange for being able to tell their voters they tried.

  • Charles_Gould

    What I find annoying about RSC is that you would think from their initials they were the Royal Shakespeare Company – an excellent theatre company – but they are not.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Charles,

    During the 1980s there was a general decline in the DUP. For example in 1985 they won 24.3% of the vote; by 1989 this had fallen to 17.7%. That’s a significant drop. So it’s possible the Ballymena/ELO thing wasn’t the factor.

    The DUP are by no means defeated, or anything like it.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Charles,

    You are Woody Allen and I claim my five pounds.

  • Charles_Gould

    CS:

    You may be right on DUP. But I don’t think banning the ELO and embarrassing everyone helped them.

    I am not WA. He he.

  • Mick Fealty

    CS,

    BreAking point as in what they can and cannot accept from the Arts?

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Ah Mr Gould, Id forgotten about ELO.

  • JH

    I can’t decide if the Deputy Mayor’s action zagged the party and made them look weak or was actually shrewd damage limitation, keeping stock with the flat-Earthers but showing everyone else that common sense wins out and it’s really just a few rotten eggs.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Mick,

    Ah right. No I don’t think it’s anything about a breaking point. It’s just silly grandstanding.

    JH, hard to know with the DUP but it would really surprise me if HQ were not involved. We’ll see when the minutes come out.

  • Framer

    May one ask who was on the Artistic Board that chose to ban the production?

  • streetlegal

    The message that the DUP will take from this debacle is that they need to take tighter control over all aspects of cultural expression. Unless Reformed Protestants secure this control they will find it difficult to achieve their ultimate goal – the righteous government and administration of ‘The Kingdom of God in Ulster’. The election of Dodds as leader will strengthen their hand in the pursuit of this goal.

  • Mick Fealty

    CS,

    You mean politicians have egos?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Framer,

    As I already patiently explained – the artistic board stopped the production under significant pressure and threats from the DUP.

  • http://sluggerotoole.com Belfast Gonzo

    If the DUP are arguing that there is a right not to be offended, surely they can’t complain when Orange marches are banned?!?

  • Comrade Stalin

    Interesting point BG, and interesting that nobody has picked it up yet.

  • Coll Ciotach

    CS

    So the DUP representatives lobbied well in making the committee aware of the event and the local councillors feelings about it? Good for them to have their act together, (pun not intended), and, as the posting about ELO alleges, if the locals feel outraged no doubt they will also serve their judgement on the local DUP in the upcoming elections.

    Perhaps the committee once made aware of the the feelings reconsidered, perhaps they were not aware of the nature of the show and changed their minds accordingly. Whatever. the point remains that a committee with few DUP members on it voted and that is that. Not the DUP’s fault.

    Glad that is cleared up.

  • IrelandNorth

    I recall many years ago seeing the Reduced Shakeaspeare Company doing an impressive job of condensing the Bard’s complete works to a five minute appearance on Rádio Telefís Éireann’s (RTE’s) Late Late Show under Gay Byrne’s moderatorship. No better people to attampt such a relatively impossible task of brevity than Americans, since brevity tends to be their thing. Since much of the History of the Bible has undoubtedly been lost in translation due to a phenomenon known popularly as Chinese whispers, perhaps this exercise in synopsis will be acceptable to synopticists.

  • Greenflag

    @ Belfast Gonzo,

    ‘If the DUP are arguing that there is a right not to be offended, surely they can’t complain when Orange marches are banned?!?’

    The Bard of Avon put it another way ;)

    ‘ that we but teach bloody instructions, which, being taught, return to plague the teacher ‘ Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7.

    @ Comrade Stalin

    ‘ interesting that nobody has picked it up yet.’

    Par for the course . There was no comment /thread on the Newtownabbey fracas until after the the town was adjudged to have returned to the 21 st century .

    I’d have offered early 20th century as the return date but I could be too optimistic.

  • Framer

    Got it now Comrade:
    “Framer, As I already patiently explained – the artistic board stopped the production under significant pressure and threats from the DUP.”
    So the artistic board, note the artistic board not the council, pulled the play because they were pressured and threatened by the DUP.
    Some threat. Some board.
    And it was chaired by an Alliance councillor who was unable to withstand the political pressure!
    I know these matters are unsayable though I notice even Nolan last night briefly alluded to it.
    Not unlike the party’s MLAs united support for their own gay marriage policy?

  • Mick Fealty

    Interesting framer. Is that true CS? (See why I kept my powder dry GF?)

  • Greenflag

    Much ado about nowt – Mick .

    The men dressed in black still intent on telling or trying to tell /persuade people how to live their lives more or less. Newtownabbey is not Pakistan -well not yet anyway ,

    The RSC is no Garth Brooks for sure . Selling 200,000 tickets for a couple of concerts at 65 euros each . Now that’s entertainment. I hope the RSC do well enough to cover their costs ,

    As for the real RSC -I’d pay 65 euros anytime to see them perform .

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s part of a long process of moving to the middle through the experience of political pain…

  • Greenflag

    By the time the long process of political pain delivers them to the middle -the middle will have moved on and they will still be left behind wondering whatever happened to their world .

    Some adapt quickly and move on .Some adapt too quickly and fall off . Some can’t adapt and never will . For the latter- political and cultural extinction or marginalisation beckon . But thats the way of the world .