Billy Elliot Author Lee Hall Cites Discrimination for Cancellation of New Opera
By Adam Hetrick
Tony Award winner and Academy Award-nominated playwright Lee Hall has alleged that his new opera Beached was cancelled after he refused to change language and references to a homosexual character, according to BBC News.
Hall (Billy Elliot, The Pitmen Painters) authored the libretto to the opera, which has a score by Harvey Brough. Beached tells the story of a single father who attempts to spend a quiet day at the beach.
Opera North commissioned the work, which was to incorporate nearly 300 school children ages four to 11. The school took issue with having students appear in the opera, which included Hall's lyric: "Of course I'm queer/That's why I left here/So if you infer/That I prefer/A lad to a lass/And I'm working class/ I'd have to concur."
School officials also requested that "offensive" references to "drug taking, sexual conduct and the use of homophobic name-calling" be removed or adjusted if young children were to appear.
Hall did adjust the tone and language, according to the BBC, but the school felt the material was still not suitable for its students and backed out of the project, forcing Opera North to cancel the production.
"I really thought this was from another era and that a school and an opera company can make this kind of mistake, I'm baffled by it," Hall said. "Obviously I'm annoyed but I'm more upset that this type of discrimination could be acceptable to people."
Mike Furbank, head of Improvement and Learning at East Riding Council, said, "The council supports the school in its concerns about the language and representation of certain issues in the planned community opera Beached and also feel that this can be resolved through judicious and sensitive reworking of elements of the scene in question. The concerns are not fundamentally about the equality issues the author is trying to raise but the way in which they are represented with children as young as four being involved in the production."
Brough also felt that discrimination was at play, adding, "There is so much joy and love and tolerance in the play - the issues are sensitively dealt with."
In a statement on the official website of Opera North, general manager Richard Mantle offered the following: "Opera North does not consider the subject matter to require censorship nor do we feel that the inclusion of the themes was inappropriate to the intended audience and participants; and there was no attempt to excise a gay character from the piece. Lee Hall has been willing to introduce changes and make adjustments to the libretto, but in relation to the scene which has caused the most difficulty for the school, Lee refused to make any further change, as is his right as a librettist."
Opera North had been in rehearsals for months and stands to lose its £15,000 commission fee.
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