Producers of a Manchester International Festival production that has become embroiled in an authorship row have defended their show, claiming there has been “no breach of legal obligations”.
The row erupted today (July 2) after two emerging writers, Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley, claimed they had been sidelined from a show called Tree that is running at the Manchester International Festival ahead of a run at the Young Vic in London and is billed as being created by Idris Elba and Kwame Kwei-Armah.
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They said they had been commissioned to write the show in 2013 but were removed when Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic, came on board last year.
In a statement, the Young Vic, MIF and Green Door Pictures, the company founded by Elba, said that MIF and Green Door did not feel Allen-Martin and Henley’s 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,” they said.
The producers 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.”
They added: “Despite attempts by the producers to resolve the issue with them, they decided to instruct solicitors. Efforts then continued through the parties’ lawyers to reach a compromise, which included the offer of a credit and an additional payment to acknowledge their initial involvement in the project. These proposals were made in spite of that fact that the claims by Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley have no legal basis, and were made only in the spirit of reaching a compromise.
“It is simply not the case that the attempts to resolve the concerns which Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley have raised were an attempt to ‘buy them off’ and it is therefore disappointing that they have characterised the position in this way.”
MIF artistic director John McGrath said that Kwei-Armah had come on board as director of Tree at the invitation of Elba and the festival.
“His involvement has been characterised by the integrity and creativity for which he is widely known. His script for Tree is entirely his creation and is, in my opinion, a resonant and exciting response to the themes of Idris’s Mi Mandela album,” he added.
Responding in a personal capacity on Twitter, Kwei-Armah said he had been asked in April 2018 to work on Tree, which he said had already been workshopped by Elba and had been seen by McGrath at the Manchester International Festival.
However, he said that McGrath was not interested in the show as it was then, and that Elba had asked him to write it. He claimed he had agreed to work with Allen-Martin and Henley in a mentoring capacity.
Kwei-Armah also said that it had been agreed that Allen-Martin and Henley could write a new draft based on a revised synopsis, but that – as meetings were hard to fix – he began to write a rough outline that he felt could “form the basis of a discussion” once they were all able to meet.
“I never refused to communicate with you. Quite the opposite, I continually requested for us to simply meet and discuss that the online was only a creative jumping off point,” he added.
He continued: “When you refused to participate, knowing that the January workshops was but a stone’s throw away, I asked another writer to use the outline as a bouncing off point so that I would have something to use in the workshop.”
When this did not happen, Kwei-Armah said he created a draft himself.
He said the pair had been “repeatedly asked” to read the script so that they could see that it was different even from the outline he initially sent them.
He said he was willing to have a public meeting with the writers to discuss the situation and added that he was sorry they had been hurt in the process.
This is my personal response to the allegations made by Tori n Sarah. There will be an official statement but didn’t want anyone to think that I would hide behind that. would be happy and in fact encourage a public discussion with Tori n Sarah n myself at a venue of their choice pic.twitter.com/4rDTyc53UP
— Kwame Kwei-Armah (@kwamekweiarmah) July 2, 2019