Billy Elliot author’s opera pulled after school objects to gay character

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A community opera by the author of Billy Elliot has been pulled after a primary school demanded that a gay character be written out.

Lee Hall, who wrote the hugely successful show about a boy who wants to dance, had been working on Beached with opera company Opera North and 400 residents of East Yorkshire town Bridlington.

He says that a local primary school, which has 300 children involved in the project, demanded that an adult gay character’s scenes be cut because they are inappropriate for children. He refused to cut the scenes and the project now looks set to be scrapped.

Writing for the Guardian, Mr Hall says he was astounded that Opera North, which commissioned the work from him, also said the lines should be cut.

At the centre of the issue is a scene which does not involve children where the character is confronted by youths. The lines are: “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.”

Mr Hall, who has spent a year working on the project, said: “The request seemed to come from a completely different era. I thought there must be some mistake and that Opera North would support me by finding a way round this completely outdated hysteria. I was amazed when they accepted the school’s position. I was repeatedly asked to excise these references to the adult character being gay.”

He continued: “No one will countenance the idea that there could be homophobia at play. The argument is that everyone is just worried about other people’s sensitivities. It amounts to the same thing. Effectively, I feel I am not being allowed to represent a gay person.”

East Riding council said its own schools music service and the primary school were concerned about the scene and felt the tone and language used was “inappropriate for a performance featuring young children, with pupils participating aged four to 11”, the Guardian reports.

Opera North said it was acting as a “mediator” between Mr Hall and the school.

Mike Furbank, East Riding council’s head of improvement and learning, told the newspaper he hoped the project could be salvaged by “sensitive reworking” of the scene.