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Young Vic issues full set of responses to Tree authorship allegations

Young Vic Theatre. Photo: Philip Vile The Young Vic has responded to the Tree authorship allegations on its website. Photo: Philip Vile
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The Young Vic has responded at length to allegations about its artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah, which relate to the authorship row that surrounds its production of Tree.

In a blog posted on its website, the Young Vic maintains that despite being based on the same original concept by Idris Elba, Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley’s 2016 script and the 2019 script that is now in production are entirely distinct projects.

Last week, Allen-Martin and Henley claimed they were the original creators of Tree and had been sidelined from the project when Kwei-Armah became involved last year and the show was taken on by the Young Vic and Manchester International Festival.

Authorship row erupts over Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah show

Kwei-Armah is listed as Tree’s co-creator alongside Elba and also directs the production, which is currently running at MIF prior to a London transfer.

The Young Vic has posted a series of responses to Allen-Martin and Henley’s assertion that they were removed from Tree and have failed to be acknowledged for their work.

“Any work which Tori and Sarah undertook historically was not for the current 2019 production of Tree, which is a new story based on Idris’ original idea. The producers of the 2019 production of Tree have always acknowledged that Tori and Sarah worked with Idris Elba in 2015-16 on a script based on his original concept for a production. Tori and Sarah are not the original writers of the 2019 Tree script, which is why they are not credited as such,” the theatre said.

The Young Vic’s responses go on to describe Allen-Martin and Henley’s script as being about a “naturalistic musical about a bi-racial teenager from London” who is sent to South Africa, and the 2019 production as “a non-naturalistic piece of immersive theatre, with movement and dreamscape choreography at its heart”, following a 33-year-old bi-racial man.

“Any similarities between the 2019 production of Tree, and Tori and Sarah’s 2016 workshopped script can be attributed to the fact that both were based upon the same original concept created by Idris Elba,” it said.

In a statement posted alongside the response, Kwei-Armah said: “This has been a painful period not just for the parties involved but also for the sector. As the artistic director of the Young Vic, my responsibility is to answer to the statements made by Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley factually and truthfully, but also to hear the pain.”

The theatre goes on to rebut a number of Allen-Martin and Henley’s claims, including that they had a “commissioning agreement” that gave them the right to approve changes to the script and veto any other writer, and that they had been “confused” to discover Kwei-Armah had written a new draft synopsis.

The Young Vic said Kwei-Armah had not intended to write the script himself but had created what he considered a first draft outline, “written to be a catalyst for creative discussion”, after which it claimed the pair declined invitations from producers to meet for conversations.

“They then stated their dissatisfaction with how they perceived the new direction of travel,” the theatre said.

Allen-Martin and Henley also said they felt intimidated and disrespected as a result of the experience. However, the Young Vic’s response alleges that they were communicated with via their agents in a “friendly and professional manner” by representatives from MIF and Green Door Pictures.

“Despite the threat of legal action, between January to the start of rehearsals, producers remained in dialogue on the subject of how things could be resolved, including mediation, in a wish to find an viable solution, subject to Tori and Sarah reading the 2019 Tree script,” it said.

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