Vil­lagers face ruin after church mu­si­cal fails

The Daily Telegraph - - Front page - By Hay­ley Dixon

The res­i­dents of a vil­lage in Not­ting­hamshire are among those who lost hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds after a re­li­gious mu­si­cal or­gan­ised by a lo­cal church col­lapsed with huge debts. Just three weeks be­fore the start of a na­tion­wide tour, the Chris­tian mu­si­cal Heaven on Earth, based on the story of Adam and Eve, went bust with debts of £2.6 mil­lion. Some of those who do­nated to the pro­duc­tion now face los­ing their homes.

THE res­i­dents of a vil­lage have lost hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds in sav­ings after a mu­si­cal or­gan­ised by their church, which was set for a starstud­ded arena tour, col­lapsed.

Mem­bers of the con­gre­ga­tion of The In­ter­na­tional Church said they were told that by do­nat­ing they were “giv­ing to God”, but some now face los­ing their homes after the tour was can­celled.

Heaven on Earth, based on the story of Adam and Eve, grew from the “dream” of a lo­cal church into a glitzy pro­duc­tion star­ring Kerry El­lis and Hugh May­nard and fea­tur­ing Rus­sell Wat­son, the tenor, as the voice of God. But just three weeks be­fore the start of a six-month na­tion­wide tour, which in­cluded shows at Manch­ester and Wem­b­ley are­nas, the show went bust with debts of £2.6mil­lion. It is be­lieved to be one of the largest ever debts in re­la­tion to a col­lapsed theatre pro­duc­tion.

Around 30 peo­ple in the vil­lage of Mans­field Wood­house, Notts, are owed roughly £500,000 be­tween them. Some are said to have re­mort­gaged their homes to help the in­de­pen­dent church fund the show.

Yes­sika Oak­ley, 34, told the BBC that her fam­ily do­nated thou­sands to­wards the project as the church was ask­ing for large sums to fund the pro­duc­tion. “Be­cause they did it in the name of God, they were put un­der the pres­sure that if you didn’t give, you’re not be­ing faith­ful and God isn’t go­ing to be very happy with you,” she said.

“What’s wrong with all of it is that it was some­body’s dream. And it’s OK to have a dream, but don’t use other peo­ple’s money for it,” she added.

Au­drey Beardal, 80, who claimed that she was driven to a bank and asked to take out £3,000 in sav­ings, said that as a re­sult of the col­lapse of the show some vil­lagers had to sell their homes.

An­other for­mer mem­ber of the con­gre­ga­tion, Lind­sey, said church lead­ers thought it would be “a God-given tool to win na­tions, to change the world”.

Mem­bers of the cast, those in­volved in the pro­duc­tion and the are­nas are also owed money, doc­u­ments show.

Paul Flem­ing, from Eq­uity, the ac­tor’s union, said it was un­usual for a pro­duc­tion of its size to col­lapse at the last minute. He said it was “an in­cred­i­bly pe­cu­liar” bet “for peo­ple who have never pro­duced a show be­fore”.

De­spite the con­gre­ga­tion be­ing told that God would pro­vide the rest of the money needed, the show ran out of cash in late 2017 and the com­pany set up to pro­duce it, Eden In­ter­na­tional Pro­duc­tions, went into ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The In­ter­na­tional Church has also gone bust. Be­cause both or­gan­i­sa­tions are be­ing liq­ui­dated it is un­likely that many of the cred­i­tors will see their money re­turned.

Nei­ther the church lead­ers nor di­rec­tors of the pro­duc­tion ap­proached by The Daily Tele­graph were will­ing to dis­cuss the claims. One of the di­rec­tors told the BBC that they were sorry for those who had lost money but in­sisted it was do­nated on a “free will” ba­sis.

Rus­sell Wat­son, the tenor, was due to play the voice of God in Heaven and Earth, a mu­si­cal or­gan­ised by a vil­lage church

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