In partnership with

Controversy erupts over Idris Elba's South African themed play

2019-07-15 12:57
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JULY 13: Idris Elba arrive

Cape Town – This month, British theatre production, Tree, put on by Idris Elba and director and playwright, Kwame Kwei-Armah, premiered at the Manchester International Festival.

Two young writers are claiming though that they were unfairly removed from the show, that they spent four years working on and developing.

Sarah Henley and Tori Allen-Martin wrote in a blog post titled "Tree. A story of Gender and Power in Theatre" that they felt "bullied and silenced" for months, with pressure to accept financial offers. "It doesn’t fix the issue, which is one of artistic integrity," they explained. 

The story follows Kaelo played by Alfred Enoch (How to Get Away With Murder), a London-born man forced by a family tragedy to travel to his parents’ homeland of South Africa. 

Commenting on the story and their contribution to the production, Henley and Allen-Martin wrote: "Even though certain elements of our story had been changed in the revised synopsis... Kwame held onto our ideas and work including the premise, timelines and time-zones, most of our characters and their relationships to each other and many of the plot points.

"For us it’s been devastating proof of the way doors are shut on women, and on the underdogs. We became completely disposable because we’re not famous or important enough. We were expected to shut up, lie down, and take it," they explained. 

Henley and Allen-Martin say all they wanted was to have a conversation, credit for their work "and a bit of heart", with Tori penning a four-page letter to Elba – one of the many attempts they say they’ve made to talk things over. 

Idris Elba initially approached Henley and Allen-Martin to help him develop his original idea for the show that was inspired by his personal story as well as his mi Mandela album – a project Allen-Martin had previously worked on with Elba.

Responding to the allegations made by the two writers, Elba said on Twitter that the play eventually took a "new direction" with "new ambitions" as it started to develop into something else.

It was at this point that Henley and Allen-Martin decided they no longer wanted to continue work on the production. 


Further, in a joint statement, Elba's Green Door Pictures company, the Young Vic and the Manchester International Festival (MIF) said they were "deeply saddened" by the blog post.

"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." With that, the writers were included in the foreword of the Tree programme, and paid for their initial work, they explained. However, in their statement they also maintained that Tori and Sarah were not the original writers of the 2019 Tree script and were therefore not credited as such. 

With regards to the claim that they’d paid the writers to keep quiet, they clarified that it was only "in the spirit of reaching a compromise" – the writers "have no legal basis".

"It is therefore disappointing that they have characterised the position in this way," they said.

Read more on:    idris elba

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.