Outrage at opera stars' cathedral gig

OUTRAGED parishioners staged a demonstration outside Chelmsford Cathedral last night to protest against a fundraising concert starring acclaimed performers from the controversial Jerry Springer opera.

By Sharon Asplin

OUTRAGED parishioners staged a demonstration outside Chelmsford Cathedral last night to protest against a fundraising concert starring acclaimed performers from the controversial Jerry Springer opera.

David Bedella and Ben Lake, two cast members from the show - denounced by thousands as "blasphemous" and for its strong language – volunteered to help to raise money for victims of the tsunami disaster.

Earlier this month John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, issued reassurances to his flock that the singers would perform only suitable material in the charity concert A New World, which was attended by a sell-out audience of 700 and raised £15,000 for the relief effort.


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But the decision to include them angered a group from Dagenham Parish Church who travelled to the cathedral to hand out leaflets and make their feelings known. They staged a peaceful protest outside the building last night.

The Rev Steven Hanna, curate of Dagenham St Peter's and St Paul's, said: "We have had 50,000 people saying to the BBC they do not approve of them broadcasting this show and then for the cathedral to invite singers from that production, even if they are singing something else, when they have caused such offence seems to me to be more than insensitive."

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The vicar of Dagenham, the Rev Mike Reith, said: "Protesting implies we are trying to stop it but we are trying the raise the question that should actors who have brought a great deal of distress to people be drawn into a project like this in a cathedral, which gives some legitimacy to what they have done or makes them think what they have done is not so bad.

"How can you claim you are helping people on the other side of the globe when you have been pretty heartless about thousands at home?"

But the Rev Philip Banks, spokesman for John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, said: "It is a shame that Steve cannot see the good that's being done in this fundraising event rather than focusing on the negative points that he does not particularly like about the actors. Really, it would be like me telling a choirboy who had once appeared on stage as a pickpocket in Oliver that he could never set foot in the church again."

Mr Bedella, who won last year's Olivier award for the best actor in a musical in recognition of his performance in the opera, spoke of his disappointment at the protest.

"I would hope on a day like this when we are coming together to raise money for the tsunami relief that people would put this first and focus on the humanitarian issue," he said.

"They are protesting about someone like myself, who is a practising Christian who takes time to help parishioners, feed the homeless, contributing where I can, without knowing who I am and what I do in my personal life.

"I play a role on stage and people should be smart enough to know the difference. Most of the people who are upset are people who have never seen Jerry Springer - The Opera and I would say, without sounding disrespectful, they should educate themselves about it.

"The final message of Jerry Springer is we need to stop judging each other ... and simply love one another - for me that's a fundamental of Christianity, so I don't quite see what the problem is."

Members of the public generally had little sympathy with the demonstrators.

Colin Slater of Chelmsford, said: "I have no problems at all with the actors - they are just acting a part."

He was backed by Joan Craig, from Wickford, who added: "I think this demonstration is ridiculous, they are condemning somebody for doing a job."

But Denise Sheffield, from Hertford, added: "I did not know these actors were performing and it might have made me think twice when I bought the tickets."

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