Today’s ESCANDALO! : Lee Hall

the playwright Lee Hall

PERSONAL UPDATE : I like having Lee Hall’s picture on my blog (thank you to The Guardian, I think) it gives it an aura of theatrical credibility – as opposed to looking like a gardening blog, with an ancient daft pooch on the header.

UPDATE : Storm in a tea-cup. The community have sorted it out. The show will go ahead as planned, with the word ‘queer’ exchanged for ‘gay’, which is much nicer if tiches are going to pick it up and use it in company.

I love some bitch fights – those where I have no personal stake in the outcome – and I hate others – those where losing would cause my self-esteem or faith in the Universe to collapse into a heap of hysterical tears and impotent threats, or those where the suffering of those involved is too tangible. Scandal is not fun when someone is obviously in or been in extreme physical or mental pain – although all scandals must involve some kind of suffering or there would be no scandal. Someone has been insulted, belittled, denounced or outraged. These things shouldn’t really be fun. And yet – like a Roman watching a Christian fed to the lions – the bit of my psyche that loves to gawp, that loves to feel morally superior, that wants to congratulate myself on not being in such a stupid position, that wants to wallow in the pleasure of knowing it’s not me in trouble, that likes to stick my oar in your business, will be delighted.

Theatre-wise the latest scandal is the Lee Hall/Opera North cancellation of their new work ‘Beached’ because of a dispute over the libretto. Most people see this as a case of homophobia and are outraged in that ‘how dare this be happening/oh what a terrible thing to be happening’ kind of way. Me – I’m not fussed. If a writer wont change his work and volunteer participants don’t want to participate, and Opera North can’t stage it without those particular children within its scheduled time-frame then everyone is entitled to take the action they’ve taken. I don’t see what else could have been done.

Lee Hall, however, is not taking it lying down. He’s on the warpath and has been in the media denouncing the school and Opera North, which is highly entertaining and good for his profile, but not entirely fair.

The school has been using the Opera as part of its teaching programme and it feels that the gay character is inappropriate for the youngest age group. The problem may be that they don’t have any resources suitable for that class and they don’t want to leave the school’s response to the whim of the individual teacher. An individual teacher, lacking official support materials, may accidentally say something ridiculous. I say ridiculous things to small children all the time, but I don’t have to deal with a disciplinary hearing, or a horrified parent, or a kid running round the playground repeating said ridiculousness.

And the disputed lines are a tough one to explain to small people :

“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”

With a four-year old, where to begin? You’d have to explain what the word queer meant. You’d have to explain gay and straight, and why some straight people don’t like some gay people – small kids find conflict very distressing and I doubt they’d really understand what the conflict was about – then there’s the preference line, which you’d have to explain didn’t mean girls were smelly or lesser – boys and girls tend to accuse each other of being smelly or rubbish at that age. And then there’s the working-class thing – which I don’t understand the relevance of at all – who’s insulting him ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’?

If I was the teacher I’d want a change.

I’d want a nice happy gay couple who were collecting shells or something :

“we’re Peter and John/we live together/cos we love each other/today we’re collecting shells”

That kind of thing.

I don’t know the headteacher of the school, so maybe she is a rampant homophobe – but I wouldn’t assume it just because she couldn’t deal with those particular lines. I also don’t blame Lee Hall for being stubborn about his vision – the bullying storyline is obviously important to him – and for being upset that the work wont be performed so late in the day.

But I do think he should be wary about labeling the school and the teachers as homophobes. The consequences of that could be a media bashing of the community or a media defence of homophobia and I don’t think the spirit of ‘Beached’ would best be served by that.

Rather than conduct a witch-hunt – it would be better if the show found a new home. I hope it does.

Alternatively – forget all about the school and get Opera North and Lee Hall to make snide remarks about each other in public that we can all snigger at.

I have no shame.


2 thoughts on “Today’s ESCANDALO! : Lee Hall

  1. “we’re Peter and John/we live together/cos we love each other/today we’re collecting shells”

    No offence, but, as an ex-teacher, it’s exposing kids to stuff they don’t know that teaches them. Kids live in a world full of things they don’t get and they are excellent at ignoring, infering or, indeed, asking about stuff they don’t understand.

    Another point is that as far as I gather this is a community opera, not an opera soley for 4 yr olds. The above line might be suitable for a playgroup singalong but the older children, and certainly the audience, would find it dull and partonising.

    If one of the young kids DID happen to see that part of the opera and they DID choose to ask about it rather then (more likely) ignore or infer meaning I don’t think there would be anything to explain beyond “he’s saying he wants to marry a man, not a woman, like your uncle John”

    I think it’s a case of adult’s (possibly subconcious) preconception that gay relationships somehow imply sex more than straight ones… children do not share this unless we teach it to them.

    As it is, it’s naieve to think that the kids wont (eventually) hear or work out why they are not taking part, and what will this teach them (including the ones with gay family members, parents, or who are even gay themselves)? It teaches them that gay people are, like violence, swearing, drug references etc, something slightly shameful that they need protecting from. This idea does NOT need re-enforcing, trust me as a man who grew up in the closet from 11-17 yrs old.

  2. When I was at primary school the only opera we were involved in was a version of ‘The Magic Paintbrush’.

    I think the aims of the school & the aims of Opera North & Lee Hall have been a bad fit from the beginning. It wasn’t just that the school was taking part, it was that it was teaching the opera. I know I’m possibly being too kind to them – but I’m assuming they feel the language & the bullying is a bit too complex for them at that age. I’ve taught 5 year olds (Christianity) & they understood next to nothing & what they did they mangled (it was a very inclusive version but somehow it kept going wrong).

    I think you’re right about the effect of their withdrawal from the project. It’s really not the best outcome. It’s made the show ALL about those lines and nothing else (whatever else was in it), and after two years, maybe they should have taken a deep breath & hoped for the best. I suspect, though, that once battle-lines were drawn everyone felt they couldn’t back down.

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