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Legal Updates

War Horse: interfering with the Royal National Theatre`s "artistic freedom"

24 April 2014 #Employment

In the case of Ashworth & Ors v The Royal National Theatre, the High Court dismissed an application which would force the Theatre to re-engage musicians who were replaced with pre-recorded music for the production War Horse.  The court concluded that to do so would interfere with the Theatre’s “artistic freedom”.  

Originally the Theatre used live music during its productions of War Horse. However, the Theatre gradually moved towards pre-recorded music which meant that there had been a significant reduction in the musicians’ workload. This ultimately led to their dismissal by reason of redundancy.

The musicians therefore sought an injunction for specific performance of their contracts, i.e. to require the Theatre to re-engage them to play their instruments in the production. The court refused to grant the musicians’ application because specific performance would only be appropriate in exceptional cases – which did not apply here.  The court also considered the Human Rights Act and in particular freedom of expression.  It concluded that to award an injunction for specific performance would interfere with the Theatre’s right of artistic expression.  Interestingly however, the musicians’ right of artistic expression had not been interfered with as they were still free to play their instruments, albeit not during the War Horse productions. The musicians also brought breach of contract claims which the court believed were “strong” as the Theatre had terminated their contracts outside the permitted grounds.  However, this did not suffice to enforce specific performance of their contracts.

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