Old Vic Cancels Terry Gilliam's 'Into the Woods' — Was It Because He Supports Dave Chappelle?

Friday November 12, 2021

Terry Gilliam
Terry Gilliam  (Source:Associated Press)

Director Terry Gilliam was set to direct a new production at London's Old Vic Theatre next year. The theater was partnering with the production company Scenario Two, which had secured the rights to Stephen Sondheim's 1986 musical.

But late last week the Old Vic posted a brief message announcing the production's cancellation. "The Old Vic wishes the show well for its future life," the statement said, adding that ticket holders would be "contacted directly."

"The Old Vic is yet to give an explicit reason for the cancellation of Stephen Sondheim's 1986 play, but it is understood staff at the theatre were unhappy about previous remarks made by Gilliam about the #MeToo movement, diversity and trans rights," reports the Guardian.

The production, though, is not over. Former artistic director of the English National Opera John Berry, whose production company Scenario Two is co-producing the show, plans a West End production. "We are focusing on finding a new home for this show ... These things happen, it's not the first change of plan for a West End show, or the last, and current times everywhere are unpredictable."

While the cancellation seemed abrupt, the controversy has been simmering for months at the theater. A report from the British theater site The Stage says that Old Vic staff members had problems when the production was announced last May.

An all-staff meeting was held on the day the booking was announced,, during which executive director Kate Varah addressed concerns raised by members of the Old Vic team.

The venue has confirmed this meeting took place, and that Varah also met with Gilliam and co-director Leah Hausman to discuss the theatre's values during their time working on the show.

"Ahead of any season announcement, senior management at the Old Vic would meet with the directors who are programmed to work in the season as a matter of course to discuss our culture and values. This happened with the co-directors of 'Into the Woods,' Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman," a spokeswoman said, reports The Stage.

Despite concerns, the Old Vic decided to continue with the production, but some staff members were not happy, including members of the Old Vic 12 — the organization's artistic development scheme — who were among those voicing concerns about the decision to stage Gilliam's production.

"The Stage is also aware of at least one resignation related to the theatre's decision to host the production. The Old Vic refused to comment on this."

The online publication also reported that Sondheim approved the new production because he was impressed with Gilliam's treatment for the show.

"The organisation's decision to part ways with 'Into the Woods' came soon after Gilliam posted in support of Dave Chappelle's new comedy show on Netflix, which has been criticised as transphobic. 'I'm encouraging all of you to watch Dave Chappelle's new show ... To me, he's the greatest standup comedian alive today: incredibly intelligent, socially aware, dangerously provocative, and gut-wrenchingly funny,' he wrote.

The Guardian continues: "The former Monty Python star has previously courted controversy by describing the #MeToo movement as a 'witch-hunt'. In the same interview, he said he was 'tired of white men being blamed for everything wrong with the world,' adding: 'When I announce that I'm a black lesbian in transition, people take offence at that. Why?'"

Reaction on Twitter was largely in support of Gilliam and against the cancellation: