“Religious censorship is in danger of strangling the arts”, says the composer of the opera, Richard Thomas to Reuters.
His lastest work, “Jerry Springer – The Opera” has caused a record number of complaints when aired on British television. As Christian protesters set fire to their television licences outside the BBC, the publicly funded broadcaster defended its right to air the show on television earlier this year despite being inundated with complaints, writes Reuters’ Paul Majendie. In June, a Christian group said it would take legal action if a Birmingham theatre hosted ‘Jerry Springer – The Opera’
Christian Voice, a small lobby group run by Stephen Green, announced that it will target theatres aggressively. The group held demonstrations outside the musical’s London venue before its scheduled closure on February 19, 2005. It also conducted an e-mail campaign over a BBC broadcast of the show that led to a record 50,000 complaints.
Comedian Stewart Lee, who wrote the script, is fuming because a British provincial stage tour was postponed after a third of the venues pulled out due to fears about protests. Pressure from Christians caused 11 regional theatres to pull out of showing ‘Jerry Springer — The Opera’ after campaign by Christian Voice to prevent the “blasphemous” musical from being shown.
Jon Thoday, head of the production company Avalon, said: “The 11 venues either got cold feet because of Christian Voice or said that they couldn’t get behind the show. But other theatres, including Plymouth, our starting venue, and Ambassador Theatre Group, have been very supportive. Regional theatres run by local councils, such as the De Montfort Hall in Leicester and the Assembly Rooms in Derby, have been especially susceptible to negative publicity,” he said.
Peter Ireson, managing director of the Assembly Rooms, said: “I am hoping to put on the show, despite withdrawing from its original tour date. We have received several abusive letters, but also offerings of support. Ideally, you don’t want to upset people who are potentially your customers, but we wouldn’t let a small minority of people frighten us.” Thoday said that he wanted to continue because he believed in freedom of expression: “It has become a crusade now. Perhaps that is the wrong word: it is more of a holy war.”
Jesus and the Devil in swearing tirade The musical is based on Jerry Springer’s brash American talk show whose lurid topics include “Honey I’m a Call Girl” and “Bring on the Bisexuals”. In the show viewers could watch Jesus and the Devil launch into a swearing tirade against each other. The censorship row came less than a month after hundreds of angry Sikhs stormed a theater in the central England city of Birmingham and forced it to scrap a play depicting sexual abuse in a Sikh temple. “I am going to write a show about the Taliban called ‘The Taliban Can Can’,” threatens Richard Thomas to Reuters.