A First Controversy

Brisbane Repertory’s inaugural Australian Playwriting Competition of 1931 was won by 26 year old Brisbane playwright George Landen Dann for his play In Beauty It Is Finished. Well before opening night, its 'blunt' language and realistic portrayal of a relationship between a young white prostitute and an aboriginal man attracted much media attention.

Smith's Weekly (July 4) reviled it as a “Sordid Drama of Miscegenation”, declaring that the judging committee “should have picked it out with a pair of tongs and thrown it into the nearest blaze”. Its parting shot at the end of the article was “… it is a matter for action by the police”.

Other papers jumped on the bandwagon, letters to the editor called for its banning, and sermons were preached for and against it. This was the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society’s first public controversy, activated by the Smith's Weekly reporter who had deceitfully obtained a copy of the play during the rehearsal period. To counter the media outrage, Professor Stable gave interviews to the major Brisbane newspapers, calmly and intelligently rebutting the arguments and, in so doing, demonstrated how conscientiously he defended the artistic integrity of Brisbane Repertory in going ahead with this production.

Of course, as everyone in the theatre business knows, no publicity is ever bad publicity! The play, directed by Barbara Sisley, enjoyed bumper houses for its three night season at Brisbane’s His Majesty's Theatre. The presence of the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr. Gerald Sharp in the front row on opening night and the Chief Justice, Sir James Blair and Lady Blair, prominent as special guests on the final night of the season, would have done much to mollify any audience anxiety about the suitability of the play for public consumption.  In fact the reviews were mostly even-handed and, balancing criticism with praise, defused the heated and extreme nature of the pre-production reporting.

Writer: Christine Comans

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