Idris Elba has responded to claims that two female former writers on his play “Tree” have not been acknowledged for their work and were pushed off the project.
Tori Allen-Martin and Sarah Henley published a lengthy statement on Tuesday detailing their complaints about being removed from “Tree,” and not being credited as the producers reworked their original ideas.
The “Luther” star responded with a lengthy statement of his own, Thursday, the same day the play premiered at the Manchester International Festival. Elba and director Kwame Kwei-Armah are credited as its creators,
Elba refuted the writers’ claims and said the situation was “frustrating” in a statement posted on Twitter. “We wanted to offer an opportunity to support these new writers while creating a piece of work and scale and to a director’s vision,” he said. “The outcome is an accusation of plagiarism and discrimination.”
The play blends drama, music, and dance, and follows one man’s journey into the heart of contemporary South Africa.
All parties agree that Elba’s “mi Mandela” album was the starting point for the stage play, but thereafter the two sides are at loggerheads. Elba and the producers said the play took a different direction after Allen-Martin and Henley’s early work on it.
“As new ambitions started to be proposed as the jumping off point for development, Tori & Sarah decided they didn’t want to pursue the early thoughts and declined to work any further on the project,” Elba said. “We were left without any writers and had to start work very quickly, which is our contractual right as beholder of the original idea, the album.”
Elba added that Allen-Martin and Henley are acknowledged in the play’s program.
Allen-Martin and Henley’s post was entitled “Tree. A Story of Gender and Power in Theatre.” They discuss in detail the genesis of the project, it getting commissioned, Kwei-Armah coming on board, and their attempts to get recognition for their work.
They acknowledged that “moving the original writers off a project isn’t unusual and can be done professionally and amicably,” but added “the levels of intimidation and disrespect we faced were totally unacceptable, soul-destroying and as we’ve since heard — not uncommon for up and coming theatre writers, particularly female ones.”
There was more drama as “Tree” launched in Manchester. The performance was halted after a member of the audience, many of whom were standing, collapsed. The BBC reports Elba made sure she received medical assistance and the woman in question was fine.
The play is a co-production between Manchester International Festival, Young Vic and Elba’s Green Door Pictures, in association with Eleanor Lloyd Productions, Anthology Theatre, Eilene Davidson Productions, and Ragovoy Entertainment.