Idris Elba and Young Vic director accused of erasing original female writers from theatre production

Hanna Flint
Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley say their contribution to Idris Elba's new musical was erased (Credit: Medium/Tory & Sarah)

Update: 02/07/2019 16:12

Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba’s production company Greendoor have denied claims that they erased writers Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley’s contribution to the new musical Tree.

Kwei-Armah claims that the project that the two writers had workshopped with Elba was not wanted by Manchester International Festival but the idea was so they looked to him to produce a new take on it/

"I understand the pain of being 'released' from a project [but] it has always been our understanding that your entitlement related to the workshop and not the project as a whole - the latter being Idris' personal brainchild." Kwei-Armah posted in a statement on Twitter.

“I am sorry for your pain but to almost single me out as the reason your script was not produced is neither fair nor correct."

A statement was also issued on behalf of Green Door, MIF and the Young Vic, which said:

“Whilst we appreciate that they were involved in exploring ideas for a project based on Idris’ original concept, the truth of the matter is that MIF and Green Door did not feel their proposed direction was artistically viable. It was decided by these producers that the show needed to go in a very different direction with a new writer attached, using Idris Elba's original concept as the starting point.

“Several offers were made to Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley to discuss the future of the show, and how the producers could continue working with them, which they declined,” it continued.

“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.”

Here is the original article:

Idris Elba’s new musical production has come under fire after two female writers have claimed their contribution had been erased.

Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley have penned a lengthy piece detailing their involvement in Tree - a new production running at the Young Vic from 29 July to 24 August - claiming that after four years of work on the project they were allegedly pushed out, namely by Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah - listed as the production’s director and co-creator - without acknowledgement of their work.

“When the show Tree was publicly announced to headline the Manchester International Festival (ahead of a move to The Young Vic), on October 30th 2018 we received messages from friends and colleagues congratulating us,” Allen Martin and Henley write on Medium.

“After years of self-producing and writing fringe theatre shows, as well as developing Tree for 4 years with multiple drafts, workshops, re-drafts and industry performances - it had all finally paid off, this was our big break.

Idris Elba attends the "Yardie" New York screening at the Crosby Hotel on March 10, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

“Sadly though - we weren’t informed about the announcement, nor were we mentioned anywhere in it, and it was the first indication that we were being pushed off the project by far more powerful people in theatre.”

Yahoo has contacted the Young Vic and Idris Elba’s publicist for comment.

The first ever reading of the first draft of TREE at Green Door’s offices - our friends and friends of friends came out in force (for free) to read for us and support this initial stage of the project. (Credit: Medium/ Tori & Sarah)

The two writers claim Elba had asked them in 2015 to workshop a musical idea after he had seen their show Streets in 2013 and subsequently invited Allen-Martin to perform on his album Mi Mandela.

Read more: Idris Elba addresses Bond backlash

The musical is inspired by that album, and the story was “to be of a mixed race young man from Hackney, who was the product of an apartheid love story, who, fleeing difficult circumstances, went on a healing journey to South Africa, discovering his roots.”

By March 2016, the two writers say they had signed a commissioning agreement giving them “the right to veto any other writer brought in, and to approve any changes in the script,” as well as be “entitled to a royalty should the show go ahead.”

However, following the development and workshop stage, Kwei-Armah is said to have become involved along with the Young Vic and soon the two writers say they were phased out without recognition.

Playwright and actor Kwame Kwei-Armah holds his Officer of the British Empire (OBE) medal which was awarded to him by Queen Elizabeth II, in 2012, England. (Photo by Sean Dempsey - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

“Between June and October [of 2018], there were multiple emails and phone-calls between Tori, Sarah and MIF suggesting that delays were merely down to difficult scheduling with Idris and Kwame’s diaries," the article says. "We now know that the project was continuing to be developed without us.

“We thought we were writing the piece, and now Kwame had ear-marked himself for the role and had utilised our ideas, characters and story development in his revised synopsis.”

Sarah, Tori, original musical director Aaron James Williams (also not informed about the project moving forward) and Sharon D Clarke at theHackney Empire workshop. (Credit: Medium/Sarah & Tori)

According to the two women, after Tree was announced they were given an offer to ghost-write “a new draft of the musical with the Young Vic director “taking the script development through to final delivery” with “the right to retain the text from the draft, but (..) under no obligation to do so,” for the grand sum of £2000 each.

Allen-Martin and Henley say the legal fees might become too much to take their case to court over breach of contract as they are already struggling to pay the ones they have incurred.

They have now set up Burn Bright to support female writers in the creative industry as well as to raise money to cover these legal fees.

On the Young Vic website, Tree is listed as being "created by Idris Elba and Kwame Kewi-Armah."

It stars Alfred Enoch and Sinéad Cusack in the lead roles and will be running at the London theatre from 29 July to 24 August.