Monday, 4 July 2011
Well and truly 'Beached' - Lee Hall and Opera North
Today saw the fallout between Northern Playwright Lee Hall and Opera North.
Opera North have been working as part of a two year 'residency' with Bridlington community groups. Part of the project was an opera composed by Harvey Brough with a libretto written by Lee Hall, known for writing 'Billy Elliot' and 'Cooking with Elvis'. Today, with two weeks before the performance, involving children from local schools, Lee Hall wrote an article in the Guardian documenting his disgust that the opera; 'Beached', was being cancelled as the LEA's involved wanted to change homosexual references in the text.
From further investigation it seems the homosexual references include a character saying 'I'm queer' and 'I prefer a lad to a lass' (that's Geordie for boy and girl, for my Southern counterparts). Lee Hall was asked to change the references but refused, also making it clear that during these parts of the text the children, to whom the LEA are attached, are not on stage during this exchange between two male characters. Lee has also created a large media interest, obviously beginning with the Guardian but following on to be daytime talk show TV fodder and a facebook page that has recruited 100's of members by the hour.
There has been a lot said about the whole affair, Opera North are now onto their third statement in regards to the situation. They have claimed that it is not about "personality or personal opinion, it's about education policy over which Opera North have no control."
It seems however, they have slightly missed the point. Opera North are so scared of being deemed homophobic or discriminatory, they haven't realised the majority of the rising uproar is in their refusal to support Lee Hall in his decision, and defend the writers prerogative to write about issues as they see fit.
In a personal aside, why employ Lee Hall if this type of language or subject matter is going to cause issues? It seems Opera North employed Lee Hall as a 'Northern' man, not a man who discusses sexuality, life, death and everything inbetween. But as we know these definitions can only lead to trouble. Lee Hall's play Billy Elliot deals with a huge range of political, sexual and prejudice issues, with down-to-earth, 'real' dialogue - and that is what he does best. Billy Elliot is now used as a discussion point for school children across the country who, through creating their own productions are discussing the varied and important themes throughout. Surely this is the way forward? Surely this production of 'Beached' could have done the same - given children an education in a topic through the form of art and Drama, isn't this what we want?
On a final note, I went to see Benjamin Britten's 'Midsummer Night's Dream' at the ENO last month, a production oozing with sexual intrigue, exploration, with references to paedophilia in a cast that were as a young as 9 or 10. Not only is the opera a masterpiece, it's also continuously explored in relation to Britten's sexuality and how he uses it in his music. Could we get away with more then? Is it just a matter of timing? There seems to be obvious parallels in this work. Maybe in hundreds of years time Hall's original libretto will be performed to packed houses of people who find his sexuality 'charming'...........?