Opera North denies homophobia

media captionWriter Lee Hall and Opera North director Richard Mantle discussed the controversy on BBC Breakfast

An opera company has denied being motivated by homophobia after scrapping a work by Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall.

Opera North has cancelled community opera Beached, which featured a gay character and 400 school children in Bridlington, East Yorkshire.

It said claims it was homophobic were "unacceptable" and that it could not proceed because a school pulled out over concerns about the language.

Hall described it as "a very simple issue about discrimination".

Beached tells the story of a single father trying and failing to have a quiet day at the beach.

Hall had toned down some of the language that Bay Primary School in Bridlington, which was due to have 300 children in the performance, deemed offensive.

But the writer refused to remove the lines: "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."

Mike Furbank, East Riding of Yorkshire Council's head of improvement and learning, said the school did not have a problem with a gay character or using drama to explore related issues.

But the school could not accept the language and tone of the passages, he said.

"It was made very clear to the writer there were certain elements the school found offensive... including references to drug-taking, sexual conduct and the use of homophobic name-calling," Mr Furbank said.

"Although the language was toned down, it was still deemed as unacceptable for four to 11-year-olds to be exposed to."

Hall said he "couldn't possibly agree" to removing the lines in question.

"Opera North are in a very difficult position but at the end of the day it's a very simple issue about discrimination, it's about silencing gay people and wanting to wipe them out of being in this play," he added.

Opera North general director Richard Mantle said the school's withdrawal was "the fundamental and only reason" for cancelling the performance.

'Demeaning' decision

"We regret that some people associated with the project have decided to view the decision not to proceed with performances as being based on a homophobic fear on the part of Opera North," he said.

"This is utterly at odds with the reality of the company's ethos about inclusivity, diversity and access to all, indeed Opera North prides itself on its stance towards sexuality.

"Opera North feels that the decision by Lee Hall to suggest that the production was cancelled due to a homophobic stance on the part of the company is unacceptable.

"It is so at odds with the reality of our views on the issue, and so publicly misrepresents the situation in such a demeaning way."

As a result of the cancellation, the Leeds-based company is set to lose £15,000, the commissioning fee for the opera, as well as months of rehearsal time.

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