Officials with England’s Opera North are saying homophobia was not the reason for canceling a new opera featuring a gay character, but show’s librettist, Billy Elliot creator Lee Hall, remains unconvinced.
Beached, which Hall (pictured, right) wrote with composer Harvey Brough, was to have premiered July 15 in Bridlington, in northern England’s Yorkshire region, featuring a large cast of local schoolchildren, aged 4 to 11, as well as adult performers. School officials and parents raised concerns about the students’ participation, and Hall made some changes as a result of their objections, but he held firm to the line that confirms the gay identity of the character in question. The main school involved withdrew, and Opera North canceled the production.
Appearing Tuesday morning on BBC Breakfast, Richard Mantle (left), director of Opera North, defended the company against charges of homophobia. The school’s withdrawal was “the fundamental and only reason” for the cancellation. “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,” he added. “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.”
Hall, also appearing on the program, was having none of it. “What is wrong with kids being in a play where there’s a gay character?” he said. “You wouldn’t say that about a disabled character, you wouldn’t say that about a fat character. The argument seems to be that a child of 5 shouldn’t know who’s gay or who’s not. [Gay artist] David Hockney is the most famous man in Bridlington. Are you going to lock him up in case he bumps into some kids on the street? I mean, it’s a preposterous argument, and I assert that it’s a discriminatory argument.”
In a related development, a government official who oversees schools in the area has backed off from a comment that the opera featured a pedophile. Mike Furbank, head of improvement and learning for East Riding of Yorkshire Council, had issued a statement saying the libretto includes “a character who groomed and abused children in his early days in Ibiza.” After Hall “protested that the work ‘does not now and has never contained such a character’, the council quietly withdrew the claim,” London’s Telegraph reports.