"The Bible's come along to cleanse the theatre," said Mark Goucher, who co-produced both Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and F***ing and the Reduced Shakespeare Company's The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged). The owners of the theatre refused to stage the one play without the other. "They allowed us to bring Shopping and F***ing in provided we brought The Bible in afterwards," said Mr Goucher.
"They thought The Bible would be more commercially successful than Shopping and F***ing would ever be, so we tied up the two."
But Nica Bruns, production director of Stoll Moss Theatres, which owns a dozen West End theatres, insists there was "no irony intended" in the two-play deal. None the less, she hopes The Bible will capitalise on the "young, hip audience" which was attracted by its predecessor. "The perception of Shaftesbury Avenue has been changed for ever by the lively audiences and writing of Shopping and F***ing. We hope The Bible continues in this vein."
Although the new play, which romps "from fig leaves to final judgement" in one hour and 40 minutes with a readymade interval between the two testaments, is less explicit than Shopping and F***ing, it has its fair share of "begatting and bartering", according to Reed Martin, co-scriptwriter and actor.
"We tried to cut out all the unimportant bits and minor characters and get to the sex and killing. We're just trying to put the fun back into fundamentalism - although most people say we've only succeeded in putting the mental back into fundamentalism."
The irreverent approach to the Word of the Lord has stirred fears in some clergy that the show will be the next Life of Brian.
One outraged cleric from Poole was so concerned when the play went on tour that he told his congregation to pray that the troupe would not make it to Dorset. The script writers insist that the play is not blasphemous and point out that it went down a treat in Jerusalem.
Neither play, however, could be described as standard West End fare. Both are being hailed, along with Ben Elton's Popcorn next door in the Apollo Theatre, as a means of weaning the next generation of theatregoers painlessly into the West End.
Forty per cent of Shopping and F***ing's audience was under 25 and the average age for Popcorn is 35. The Reduced Shakespeare Company's audiences are predominantly young too.
Mr Goucher is delighted with the success of Shopping and F***ing, which sold out every night, and the fact that the Reduced Shakespeare Company now has three plays running in London simultaneously.
"The West End has that myth that it's very difficult to make new controversial plays work there, but there's a massive, young, trendy audience out there," he said. "It's that new audience that everyone desperately wants to get into the West End to ensure its survival."
The Reduced Shakespeare Company's other plays, The Complete Works of Shakespeare (abridged) and The Complete History of America (abridged), both running at The Criterion Theatre, are attracting a predominantly young audience too. The producers of The Bible are confident that their latest show will do the same.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company considers The Bible to be "the perfect addition" to its repertoire.
"It's long, internationally known, packed with sex and violence and, most importantly, these three cultural apostles cannot be sued by the original authors," said a spokeswoman.
"After unceasing and diligent research they are now able to reveal the answers to questions that have baffled theological scholars for centuries such as: `Did Adam and Eve have navels?' and `Did Moses really look like Charlton Heston?' "
The Bible runs at the Gielgud Theatre from 8 August to 1 November.Reuse content