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A Splendid Adventure

Australian Suffrage Theatre on the World Stage

Susan Bradley Smith

Australia led the world in the achievement of woman’s suffrage and the nation’s cultural history reflects this ambitious and progressive atmosphere. The impressive achievements of suffrage feminists in Australian theatre, however, are an untold story, as is their contribution to the development of international women’s theatre of the time. A Splendid Adventure brings these experiences and experiments to light through a group biography exploring the theatrical careers of Katharine Susannah Prichard, Stella Miles Franklin, and Inez Isabel Bensusan. Chosen because of their expatriate involvement in the women’s movement, their international profile as enfranchised Australian women, and their exceptional contribution to both the development of Australian drama and international feminist theatre, these women embody the energies and passions of Australian suffrage playwrights. The biographies of these major figures are accompanied by the dramatic stories of the New Women playwrights, the theatrical endeavours of women university students, and a consideration of international feminist theatre on tour in Australia, including the work of migrant suffragette Adela Pankhurst. The volume also includes the full text of a play by each playwright. Australian suffrage playwrights emerge from this study as exceptional feminists, expatriates, and theatre workers, whose «splendid adventures» have considerable implications for international women’s theatre, feminist dramatic criticism, and Australian theatre historiography.
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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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