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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 12:04 GMT
Springer tour faces new protests
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

Jerry Springer the Opera
The opera featured Jesus, Mary and God as talk show guests
Theatres across the UK are preparing for protests as the national tour of controversial stage show Jerry Springer - The Opera begins this week.

Pressure group Christian Voice, whose outcry prompted 55,000 complaints when the BBC screened the show a year ago, is planning a string of demonstrations.

But it has denounced British National Party members who claim to be part of its campaign.

The 20-city, five-month tour begins in Plymouth, Devon, on Friday.

Christian Voice director Stephen Green said he expected at least 50 people to protest outside the Plymouth Theatre Royal on the opening night.

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
Christian Voice's campaign in Plymouth has been led by local organisation Action Group Springer, which claims 200 supporters.

'Christian majority'

The BNP's Plymouth organiser Graham Green said party members had been handing out leaflets on behalf of the Christian campaign.

He said the "Christian majority" was being discriminated against because a similar show about a minority would not have been allowed.

Mr Green said: "We've had a number of atheists that have been out with the churchgoing members of ours here in Plymouth, who have actually been out helping to distribute leaflets for Stephen Green."

Asked whether BNP members were planning a protest outside the theatre on Friday, he replied: "I'm not prepared to comment.

"I don't think that would be prudent of me. You've got a few days to go yet, so keep guessing."

Stephen Green of Christian Voice said BNP members were "not welcome" and insisted Graham Green was not part of his campaign.

Action Group Springer's leader, the Reverend John Hollins, said he was "horrified" by the BNP's claims.

"I would be appalled to think any of our leaflet distributors were members of the BNP," he said. "They are purveyors of hate and we are purveyors of love. We're Christians.

"I don't go around asking our leaflet people what their political persuasion is.

"They claim they've been supporting us and maybe they hold the same view on this issue but we would repudiate their involvement with us absolutely."

Extra security

A spokesperson for the Plymouth theatre said there would be extra security on the opening night.

"We are aware that there are people out there who aren't particularly happy with the fact that we have Jerry Springer," she said.

"We have got more people who will be present front-of-house to ensure that there are no problems with people who want to come in and see the production and make sure they can gain access."

Christian Voice will also protest at other theatres, Stephen Green said.

"We're very well organised in Birmingham, we're quite kitted out in Aberdeen, Norwich, Southend," he said. "And the other venues we're getting organised now."

Christian Voice has been dismissed as a noisy but small evangelical group by many in the mainstream religious establishment.

A spokesman for the show's production company Avalon said "a number of the theatres have been in communication with any people planning to make a peaceful protest".

"In the same way as Christian Voice has the right to protest, we have the right to entertain people," he said

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