Writers at the centre of an authorship row over flagship Manchester International Festival show Tree have failed to secure royalties and a credit for their input, after months of negotiations with producers broke down.
The row first came to light in July last year over the production of Tree, which was billed as being co-created by the Young Vic Theatre’s artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah and Idris Elba.
However, two emerging writers, Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin, claimed they came up with the show first and said they had felt "bullied and silenced" after seeking credit for their work.
Henley and Allen-Martin have since set up a new theatre company called Burn Bright to support emerging female writers, and told The Stage they had been in on-going negotiations with the producers of Tree, seeking "a proper credit and royalties" for their contribution to the show.
The writers said: "We have been working closely with the Writers’ Guild (who have been incredible) to try and find a resolution, but despite great support and lots of hard work, no agreement could be reached.
"We hope that in the future the producers of Tree will do the right thing and fully recognise our contribution to the work.
"We also hope that other producers working in theatre will learn from this process and avoid working practices that are detrimental to early career writers, such as buy-outs and work for no pay."
Henley and Allen-Martin added: "We are of course really disappointed that after all this time and all the emotional energy invested that we are no further forward, but have decided that the best thing to do for the moment is to draw a line and move on to more positive things, which for us is Burn Bright."
The statement follows an announcement of two new initiatives from Burn Bright, which include a networking hub for industry mentorship and a commissioned series of short plays by women to be shared over Zoom.
Tree, which ran at Manchester International Festival and subsequently at the Young Vic in London, is co-produced by MIF, the Young Vic and Elba’s production company Green Door Pictures.
Manchester International Festival and the Young Vic declined to comment, and Green Door Pictures could not be reached for comment.
According to Henley and Allen-Martin, the play was conceived in 2013 after Elba invited the writers to create a show based on music from his album Mi Mandela. Following this, it received a number of industry workshops.
Henley and Allen-Martin claim they were sidelined from the show when Kwei-Armah became involved in 2018 and that their mental health suffered as a result.
Writing in a previously-published blog post on publishing platform Medium, they said: “We put four years of work into that project, and the majority of those involved read our script, our proposal documents, our premise and our synopsis – there is no way it’s a ‘different project’, no matter how much it’s changed."
In a blog published on its website, the Young Vic maintained that despite being based on the same original concept by Elba, Allen-Martin and Henley’s 2016 script and the 2019 script that was produced were entirely different projects.
A previous statement from the Young Vic, MIF and Green Door Pictures, said: “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."
The statement added that it was not accepted there had “been a breach of any legal obligations owed to Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley’s original workshop contract”.
The producers also claimed that previous negotiations had taken place through the parties’ lawyers "in the spirit of reaching a compromise", which allegedly included the offer of a credit and an additional payment.