2 min

When Opera North goes south

In the north of England, a primary school’s paddy about a gay
character in a community opera has turned into its own theatrical nightmare.

A community opera called Beached, written by the author of Billy Elliot, Lee Hall, was pulled after a
primary school demanded that a gay character be written out.
The gay character was, according to the principal of the
school, inappropriate for children.

The row centres on a scene where the character, when
confronted by youths, sings:

“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.”

Opera North, which commissioned Hall to write the opera, agreed
with the prissy principal and pulled the opera.

When Pink News first
reported on the story, Hall expressed his concern about the decision.

“The request seemed to come from a completely different era.
I thought there must be some mistake and that Opera North would support me by
finding a way round this completely outdated hysteria. I was amazed when they
accepted the school’s position. I was repeatedly asked to excise these
references to the adult character being gay.”

And that’s when the new opera began.

Opera North’s general director, Richard Mantle, said that
the Opera had to cancel the community project because the school withdrew.

Mantle came out
singing, “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.”

Mantle
said that the school had also demanded that other references also be cut, like  “pee-pee” and “stupid.”

Then Emma
Hobbs, the head teacher of Bay Primary School, who started the hoo-hah in the
beginning, decided to chip in and say that she was concerned about the
emotional well-being of the children.

She denied that
she was homophobic but, as a responsible woman, she had to protect them from
offensive language.

“As a parent
and an educator I have made the decision that our four- to 11-year-old children
have the right to be protected from offensive language and to be able to learn
about the impact of upsetting insults in the appropriate manner.”

Mike Furbank,
head of improvement and learning for East Riding of Yorkshire Council, also
jumped on the bandwagon.

He said in a
statement that “of particular concern and offence was a character who
groomed and abused children in his early days in Ibiza.”

What?

Furbank must
have been confused with some other play, because after Hall protested that the
work “does not now and has never contained such a character,” the council
quietly withdrew the claim.

And still the
saga goes on. According to the UK Guardian, the story has gone viral. It has made
the news in Australia and North America and has a following in the social
media world. Nearly 4,000 people have shared it on Facebook and 800 have
tweeted their comments.

Beached was the
culmination of a $260,000 (Can) project and was due to premiere on July 15. Sadly, the production has now been beached.

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