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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 05:16 GMT 06:16 UK
Church protest at Springer show
Jerry Springer the Opera
The opera features Jesus, Mary and God as talk show guests
Church leaders on Tyneside mounted a protest outside a theatre on the opening night of a week-long run of the musical Jerry Springer The Opera.

The controversial production parodies the US reality television show hosted by Jerry Springer.

When it was screened on BBC TV it prompted a record 63,000 complaints - mainly because of its 200 swear words.

Some church leaders have urged Newcastle's Theatre Royal to abandon the production.

No-one from the theatre was available for comment.

2001 - Developed at Battersea Arts Centre, London
2002 - One of the hits of the Edinburgh Festival
2003 - Critical and commercial success at National Theatre and in West End
2004 - Wins four Laurence Olivier Awards, including best new musical
Jan 2005 - BBC receives 55,000 complaints as it is shown on BBC Two
Feb 2005 - Broadway run cancelled because of controversy
Jan 2006 - UK tour starts
But Rev David Holloway, Anglican vicar of Jesmond, Newcastle said: "I hope Monday's demonstration is a success.

"There must be freedom of speech, but for ideas not blasphemy. In a free society the church accepts public denials regarding Jesus Christ as it can argue for the truth about him.

"But public wilful and relentless abuse of Jesus Christ, as in this production, has no place in a civilized society - hence our moderate blasphemy laws.

"As this production breaks those laws and as council tax payers subsidise the Theatre Royal, the management of the theatre seems to be illegally spending money to shock and outrage a large body of Christian council tax payers."

Last week, leaders from more than 40 churches in Tyneside wrote to the Theatre Royal and city councillors condemning the decision to host the show.

'Reality TV satire'

A spokesman for the show's production company Avalon said: "We have the right to entertain people."

National Secular Society executive director Keith Porteous Wood said: "The majority of people protesting against this show have not even seen it, they are taking the word of religious propagandists that it is anti-Christian.

"In fact, it is not an attack on religion at all, but a satire about the way reality TV uses vulnerable and disturbed people for entertainment.

"It uses Christianity as a metaphor to confront and satirise the cruelty of shows like Jerry Springer. It is not at all about attacking Christianity."

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