Opera North and Bridlington School in row with Billy Elliot writer over gay character

Lee Hall
Lee Hall

A COMMUNITY opera involving hundreds of Bridlington schoolchildren celebrating tolerance and civic values has been cancelled over a row about a gay character and offensive language.

Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall has spent the past year working on the script for the ‘Beached’ opera which involved 300 Bay Primary School pupils and was due to take to the Spa stage on July 15 and 16.

But the show, which is part of a two-year Opera North project in Bridlington, has now been dramatically cancelled amid disagreements between Mr Hall, Opera North and the school over ‘offensive’ elements to the play.

Writing for the Guardian, Mr Hall said that his refusal to a request from the school and Opera North to remove the lines ‘I’m queer’ and ‘I prefer lad to a lass’ has lead to Bay Primary pulling out and the opera being cancelled.

He said: “The request seemed to come from an entirely different era.

“I thought there must be some mistake, and that Opera North would support me by finding a way around this completely outdated hysteria.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.

“I have spent years working in theatres and schools, and had never come across such an extraordinary situation.”

Speaking on the school’s behalf, Mike Furbank, head of improvement and learning at East Riding of Yorkshire Council, denied that the gay character was the issue, saying that it was the language and tone of a scene that caused a problem.

However, Mr Hall firmly believes it is primarily the homosexual element that has caused the disagreement and a Facebook page set up in support of the opera and protesting against ‘homophobia and bigotry’ has attracted over 600 members.