On the road to hell?

Springer opera tours, despite protests

Controversy-hit musical Jerry Springer: The Opera is to tour, defying the fundamentalist Christians who tried to have in banned.

A previous national tour was abandoned after up to a third of the planned venues pulled out in the face of pressure from the campaign group Christian Voice.

However, 21 venues have now agreed to defy the protests to stage the musical, written by stand-up Stewart Lee and composer Richard Thomas, early next year.

The award-winning musical, which attracted up to 55,000 complaints after BBC Two announced they were going to screen it in January, will now open in Plymouth on the January 23.

Christian Voice director Stephen Green said: 'It is clear Stewart Lee is being driven by some kind of perverse missionary fervour

'This tour can only bring the judgment of Almighty God on the United Kingdom. The whole nation prayed to God in the name of Jesus Christ just 60 years ago, and God delivered us from the Nazis in answer to that prayer.'

Christian Voice has previously written to every theatre in Britain, vowing to stage payer protests outside every venue that stages it, and making it clear it will cause a stir about any public subsidies to any theatre sating such ‘an offensive, disgusting, blasphemous production’.

In the letter, the organisation’s Green said: ‘Should any regional theatre stage Jerry Springer: The Opera, we shall be looking to prosecute them [for blasphemy] as well.’

The group is furious that the show depicts Jesus  as ‘an infantile sexual deviant’ who confesses he is ‘a little bit gay’, as well as showing God as flawed, and needing the guidance of Springer.

Although the Christian church is based around forgiveness, Green claimed it would be ‘arrogant’ to forgive those behind the Springer opera on Christ’s behalf.

He  added: ‘I pray God will raise up Christians to mount prayer vigils in every town and city where there is even a thought of this anti-Christian wickedness taking place.’

Lee, who also directed the show, said: ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera was developed on public money in public spaces and belongs to the nation, whether the nation wants it or not.  It would be nice if people outside the M25 could actually get to see it, despite people's best efforts to prevent this.’

While Thomas added: ‘I am overjoyed Jerry Springer – The Opera is going on tour in spite of such extreme protest. I am also buying a flak jacket. And sticking close to shadows.”

Producers Avalon have also criticised Arts Council England, claiming they caved into pressure from Christian Voice to withdraw vital backing that would have allowed the earlier tour to go ahead.

However, the body  denied the allegations, saying the tour was too commercial to warrant public subsidy.

In a statement, they said: ‘Arts Council England supported the development of the original production of Jerry Springer -The Opera and we are proud to be associated with it.

‘Our decision not to put funds into the tour has nothing to do with pressure from extremist groups. The budgets submitted to us in Avalon’s application did not show a level of financial risk that would justify public subsidy for the tour.’

Producer Jon Thoday said: ‘I’m delighted that the small minority have not prevented the public from seeing this brilliant show. Freedom of speech and artistic freedom have prevailed.’

The musical has already been seen by 425,000 people in the theatre and was watched by 2.4 million viewers when it aired on BBC Two - a record TV viewing figure for a musical or opera.

All the venues staging the tour also issued statements supporting it.

Typical is the Newcastle Theatre Royal, which said: ‘We believe it is important that the show is seen and judged for what it is – a splendid piece of musical theatre,’ while Fiona Allan, programming director of the Wales Millennium Centre said: ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera may be controversial, but then again art should both challenge and entertain us, and history is full of controversial pieces of art, which to us today appear tame.’

The tour schedule is:                       

January 23 to  February 4: Plymouth Theatre Royal
February 6 to 18: Birmingham Hippodrome
February 20 to 25: York Grand Opera House
February 27 to March 4: Leicester De Montfort Hall
March 6 to 11: Glasgow King’s Theatre
March 13 to 18: Aberdeen His Majesties
March 20 to April 1: Manchester Opera House
April 3 to 8: Oxford New Theatre
April 10 to 15: Cambridge Corn Exchange
 April 18 to 22: Milton Keynes Theatre
April 24 to 29: Edinburgh Festival Theatre
May 1 to 6: Newcastle Theatre Royal    
May 8 to 13: Norwich Theatre Royal
May 15 to 20: Bristol Hippodrome
May 22 to 27: Bradford Alhambra
May 29 to June 3: Southend Cliffs Pavilion
June 5 to 10: Liverpool Empire
June 12 to 17: Cardiff Wales Millennium Centre
June 19 to 24: Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
June 26 to July 1: Croydon Fairfield Halls
July 3 to 8: Brighton Dome

For tickets, click here

In the wake of the Jerry Springer controversy and the new religious hatred laws, the relationship between religion and comedy will be debated in Leicester Catherdral in February, as part of the town’s comedy festival. Event director Geoff Rowe said: ‘This debate is a really important one and we’re delighted that Leicester Cathedral has agreed to let us use the space.’


Published: 20 Sep 2005

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