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REVIEW: The Bible - The Complete Word of God (abridged)

16:08 25 April 2014

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the Mill

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the Mill

© Chris Hill Photographic

As Ellie and I drive to The Theatre, Chipping Norton, the skies begin to darken. And then the rain comes – driving so ferociously against our windscreen, it’s a big hint we should be urgently sourcing gopher wood. Whatever that might be.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the MillThe Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the Mill

We’re on our way to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company perform THE BIBLE: the Complete Word of God (abridged), a show so blasphemous, it was almost banned in the normally devil-may-care province of Northern Ireland.

“It’s obvious that God is angered,” Ellie says, as the windscreen wipers struggle like Samson, post-hairdo.

“It’s the Problem of Humour,” I explain, “a long-time theological debate. As Thomas Aquinas pointed out, God must have had a sense of humour to create beings who make jokes. Obviously, with the exception of Northern Ireland, the Germans and Jim Davidson.

“Isn’t that Evil?” Ellie asks.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the MillThe Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the Mill

“Possibly in the case of Jim Davidson jokes,” I concede.

I’ve long wanted to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company (or RSC [not that one] as I’ll refer to them from now on, for the sake of clarity and brevity). I’ve watched them on YouTube where their rendition of Hamlet was moving to the point of hysteria. I felt the mysterious nature of the ghost of Hamlet’s father – is this a real visitation from beyond the grave; a case of mass hysteria; or just a figment of Hamlet’s morbid imagination? - worked particularly well as a stuffed sock with a rudimentary face.

And now the RSC [not that one] have reduced the Bible – “the greatest story ever accepted as fact” - into chunks so manageable, God would clearly fail that very-hard-English-exam-where-you-have-to-precis-quite-a-repetitive-and-long-winded-passage. Not only that, but the RSC [not that one] unravelled some of the long-debated Biblical mysteries: what is the difference between Elijah and Elisha? The two Marys? The two Josephs? Their gift to us, as they put it, was “to render the inexplicable plicable”. Bless them for it.

We began with the definitive Genesis – when Peter Gabriel was with them – and worked our way through computers in the Garden of Eden (Eve had an Apple) right the way to the magic of Easter, as symbolised by the Easter bunny. Abraham – the Lincoln version – was shown almost sacrificing his son, in a passage so joyously comic, I’m torn between describing it to you and keeping it from you. BECAUSE YOU MUST GO AND SEE THIS FOR YOURSELF.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the MillThe Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the Mill

The Problem of Humour was addressed sensitively throughout the production. The conclusion was that a God who led his Chosen People throughout the Middle East for 40 years before finally settling them in the only place without oil must have enjoyed a chuckle. That, and the creation of Justin Bieber, obviously.

How wonderful were the RSC! [not that one]. Their energy, knock-about, and sheer sense of humour worked brilliantly, in spite of their being American. As I sat in Chippy theatre, right beside the plaque that commemorated the “one hundred of those who through great persecution boldly and conscientiously served their God” (it used to be a Salvation Army citadel), I felt confident there was nobody in the world who could possibly be offended by this.

The questions we are left with are fundamental to humanity: can astrology really tell you how to ask your boss for a pay rise?; Are the RSC [not that one] really going to hell?; And – most puzzling of all – why do people book front-row tickets when they know it means they’ll be asked to go on stage and impersonate a duck during the Noah’s Ark scene?

Great is the mystery of alternative medicine.

The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the MillThe Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged) at Newtownabbey Theatre at the Mill

We absolutely loved your show, RSC! [not that one]. We’ll definitely be watching your website to see when you’ll next be flying over to England, and whether or not you get struck by vengeful lightning. Your wit is more seasoned than Lot’s wife; your references more colourful than Joseph’s [not that one] coat; and your jokes are a lot more funny than those in the Book of Job. Utterly brilliant.

*******

• For more information, including tour dates, log onto www.reducedshakespeare.com
• To find out what’s on at The Theatre, Chipping Norton, visit www.chippingnortontheatre.co.uk

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