Australian Suffrage Theatre on the World Stage
Chapter 6 Inez Bensusan: Activist and Aesthete
Inez Bensusan: Activist and Aesthete
The basic achievements of Inez Isabel Bensusan’s theatrical life are easily paraphrased, with the allure of Bensusan as historical subject increasing with each retelling. Bensusan’s first introduction to late twentieth-century voyeurs came via Julie Holledge’s pioneering study on women and Edwardian theatre, Innocent Flowers1 and continues with twenty-first-century theatre historians such as Naomi Paxton’s Stage Rights!2 Most critical attention, then and since, has focused solely on the ‘products’ of Bensusan’s professional enterprises, and not necessarily on the means of production. Her acclaimed play, The Apple, has been subject to various feminist dramatic criticisms, as have the achievements of the Actresses’ Franchise League’s (AFL) Play Department under Bensusan’s direction. Until now, Bensusan as a biographical subject has had scant attention in the sense that her Australianness is viewed as being incidental rather than of critical importance. For a woman recognised as having made a ‘significant contribution … to women’s theatre’,3 Bensusan remains an enigmatic figure in theatre history. The following chapter introduces Bensusan as an Australian Jewish woman expatriate, a feminist, and a highly politicised theatre professional; thereby locating her in a very different historical space than that which she currently enjoys. This examination of her life and work is offered here as a case study illustrating the character of Australian suffrage theatre as outlined in earlier ←169 | 170→chapters. Bensusan’s theatrical career clearly represents those defining qualities: embracing ‘post-suffrage’ attitudes, enacting expatriate feminist desire, and absorbing the influences...
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