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

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…

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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