The man behind a musical show about cocklers who died in Morecambe Bay says it will not depict the night of the tragedy itself.
Co-writer Daniel York Loh said ‘Sinking Water’ would be a sensitive music theatre piece exploring in song the events leading up to the deaths of 23 Chinese cocklers and the aftermath – not a big budget West End-style musical.
Mr York Loh said: “We’re not going to portray anything that happened that night.
“There will not be people drowning on stage or anything like that.
“It will be a musical examination of events leading up to (the tragedy) and the aftermath. It’s about what happened to (the victims) at home, what drives them to want to make the journey, what puts them in that position where they lose their lives.”
An e-petition set up by Morecambe man Robert Nelson has called for the planned musical to be scrapped.
Mr Nelson called the idea “breathtaking insensitivity”.
The petition on website Change.org has been signed by 120 people including three Morecambe councillors.
It says: “We believe a musical will trivialise and sensationalise what happened and will be an insult the the memory of the victims, the many rescue workers and support workers and the people of the Morecambe Bay area who clearly remember that fateful and horrific night.”
It also suggests the tragedy might be “given the West End treatment”.
But Mr York Loh said: “I wouldn’t know how to give it the West End treatment, I haven’t watched a West End musical for about 20 years.
“People are seeing the word ‘musical’, I think, as quite toxic.
“The musical theatre genre has explored difficult subject matter on many occasions. Oh What A Lovely War is about what went on in the Great War.
“I want to talk to local people and hear their concerns. I would like to try to make contact with some of the victims’ families.”
Mr York Loh said he was deeply moved by the tragedy in 2004 because he comes from “working class migrant stock” and his father has family links to the Fujian province where many of the cocklers were from.
“With a different situation four or five generations ago, that could have been me out there (in the bay),” he said.
“It’s not my aim to make something exploitative and trivialise these people, and I don’t see how it will. I would hate to work on something that was insensitive.”
Mr York Loh, who has campaigned for better representation of British East Asians in the arts, believes ‘Sinking Water’ will challenge the perception of Chinese people and migrant workers.
“The general feeling in the media was that this was a horrible thing but it happened mainly between Chinese people. White western people seem to matter more because we see them represented all the time on television, so we relate to them.
“The further you get into the non-western world, we don’t relate in the same way.
“I also think there is a perception, unfortunately, that immigrants come over here to claim benefits and it’s an easy life. But it’s anything but. It’s perilous and you have to be desperate to do it.
“One song is about a young man who works in a factory in China, and every day he sees this girl and would like to marry her, but he needs a house to do it. Every single person who was there, was there to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. This will be about community and love.”
Mr York Loh said the musical would not be performed publicly for at least a year and would include “six to eight actors”. He said he hoped to tour it around the UK, ideally including Morecambe.
The cocklers died after being engulfed by the rising tide off the coast of Bolton-le-Sands on February 5 2004.
A gangmaster was later convicted of their manslaughter.