Writer dispute erupts over Idris Elba play Tree at the Young Vic


Two playwrights have claimed they were removed from the production of Tree, a stage show based on an album by actor Idris Elba set to run at the Young Vic after premiering in Manchester, after working on the project for four years.

In a lengthy post on Medium, Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin detailed the process of writing Tree, from conceiving the idea with Elba in 2015, to being dismissed from the show late last year.

They claim that when Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director at the London venue, came on board with the project in May 2018 and showed willing to stage the show at his theatre and Manchester International Festival, they were removed from the project.

The blog details the piece being commissioned, workshops which took place at the Hackney Empire and Dominion Theatre in 2016 and Kwei-Armah joining the project. At this point, development of the show continued without the pair, and marketing material was released with no reference to Henley or Allen-Martin. When the show was announced, it was marketed as being ‘created by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah’.

Both writers were ‘dismissed from the project’ in November 2018, and producers told them that the project was now ‘a different project entirely’ to the one they had signed a contract for.

The piece concludes with them stating: ‘All we asked for was a conversation, credit where it’s due, and a bit of heart. But everyone is acting as if we’ve never been involved at all. People need to be better, especially people who inspire others.’

Kwei-Armah responded with a statement on social media, which claims that their script was ‘not a project he would be interested in producing’, as he and Elba believed ‘the previous artistic approach was not working (nor was going to work).’

He states that John McGrath -MIF artistic director - was ‘interested in the underlining idea but not the project as presented’, and that Elba went on to ask Kwei-Armah to ‘take the project on board from scratch as writer’.

He also refutes refusing to communicate with the pair, adding that he offered to have the writers on board, ‘almost in a mentoring capacity’.

Green Door (producers of the project), MIF and the Young Vic released a joint statement which added: ‘It is not accepted that, by moving the project in a different direction and commissioning Kwame Kwei-Armah to write a brand new script based on Idris Elba’s original concept, there has been a breach of any legal obligations owed to Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley’s original workshop contract.’

You can read Henley and Allen-Martin’s blog here, Kwei-Armah’s response here, and the Young Vic statement here.

Tree, which stars Alfred Enoch and Sinéad Cusack runs at MIF until 13th July, and runs at the Young Vic from 29th July to 24th August.

Photo credit: SlimJim (flickr)

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