Religous row erupts over Lowestoft’s Marina Theatre

ANGRY churchgoers this week pledged to stage protests outside Lowestoft's biggest theatre to voice their objections to a comedy show that they describe as 'vulgar' and 'blaspemous'.

Award-winning comedian Richard Herring is due to perform his one man show 'Christ on a Bike – the Second Coming' at the Marina on Thursday, April 28 as part of a nationwide tour.

The performer and broadcaster, known for his partnership with Stewart Lee, says the show takes 'a grown-up, childish look at religion' and explores if he has achieved as much in his life as Jesus.

But its content has provoked an angry reaction from some churchgoers in Lowestoft who have vowed to stage a demonstration outside the theatre on the night of Mr Herring's performance.

In turn, he has hit back at his critics – describing them as religious extremists.

Members of the Free Presbyterian Church in Oulton Broad say they are particularly incensed by a flier promoting the show. The leaflet features a mock-up of the Bible in which God and the Holy Spirit are seen to use offensive words or phrases. It also suggests that 'Jesus is cool' but people who follow him are 'idiots'.

Rev Kyle Paisley, a leader at the Free Presbyterian Church, said the show had no place on a public stage.

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Mr Paisley, who is the son of Ulster politician Lords Bannside (Ian Paisley), said: 'The flier is vulgar and blasphemous. It is gross, insensitive, childish and pubescent. It is not acceptable for people to be exposed to this terminology and language. He seems to be going out to the nth degree to insult Christianity.

'I am sure if he thought he would get away with it he would try other it with other religions.'

Matthew Pickhaver, a youth leader and member of the Free Presbyterian Church, is also a member of the Friends of Marina which is now running the theatre as part of a new trust. He was so dismayed by the flier and the show's content he has written to theatre manager Martin Halliday, asking him to cancel it.

In his letter, Mr Pickahaver said: 'Freedom of speech and the right of all to express their beliefs and opinions, which I firmly support, should not extend to the deliberate and ignorant ridiculing of persons or truths held dear by either a majority or a minority.'

His letter goes on to ask if the comedy show is a potential breach of the Public Order Act as it may use insulting or abuse words or behaviour that could cause alarm, distress or harassment.

Mr Pickhaver told the Journal: 'The flier is just absolutely vile. It desperately plummets into the depths of vulgarity.'

Mr Herring first performed his Christ on a Bike show in 2001 and launched his latest tour in London in December, with plans for more than 90 performances – including two at Norwich Playhouse on April 29 and May 1.

One of the jokes in the show compares God to the main character of Only Fools and Horses, Del Boy.

Mr Herring told the Journal: 'I think people should see the show before they judge it and maybe some Christians need to re-read their gospels and note the bit about turning the other cheek and not judging.

'Christians who have seen the show generally enjoy it and recognise it as a well researched and ultimately respectful tribute to Jesus., which is as much about the stupidity and hypocrisy of my own atheism as it is about the limitations of religion.

'I feel by giving these extreme Christians publicity, you (The Journal) are ignoring the vast majority of practising Christians who are able to rise above such childishness and let everyone express their viewpoint. The show heralds Christians like my parents who have done nothing but good in their lives and is critical of myself.

'While I think this group have the right to protest, I think the majority of Christians should come down and protest against this minority who are in danger of making their religion look silly.'

Mr Herring has also courted controversy on his website by insulting the protesters and the wider population of Lowestoft. In his blog, he said: 'I have heard tell that some of the more backward people of East Anglia (and imagine how backward that must make them feel) are planning on protesting against the Lowestoft gig, which is probably great news, as that is the one this is selling about the worse so far.'

The Christ on a Bike – Second Coming Tour follows on from Mr Herring's previous show, Hitler Moustache, for which he grew a moustache to look like the Nazi dictator.

Mr Herring broke into the comedy limelight when he partnered Stewart Lee on the BBC Two's Fist of Fun in the mid-1990s. He has also appeared on comedy shows This Morning with Richard Not July and Time Gentlemen Please.

In 2009, another performer The Marina made the headlines for the wrong reasons when Owen Woodgate, who was appearing as the pantomime prince in Cinderella, criticised Lowestoft on a website by saying: 'Everyone's pregnant...it's dominated by hoodies...and there isn't a Starbucks.'

•What do you think? Are the churchgoers right to protest, or should the show be treated as harmless comedy? Write to Postbox, The Journal, 147, London Road North, Lowestoft NR32 1NB or e-mail max.bennett@archant.co.uk and be sure to include your name and address

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