George Landen Dann‘s In Beauty it is Finished reveals the way society decides who gets a voice and who gets pushed to the fringes in both its script and its performance history.
After spending five years in Brisbane, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper returns home to a small island off the coast of Queensland. Besides her parents the island is home to only an aboriginal mission and a fisherman who lives alone. On the surface life here is simple, quiet and repetitive, but the residents of this island have their secrets and they can’t remain submerged forever.
In Beauty It is Finished is a challenging story of identity, social acceptance and isolation. It shows that while life in the city can be difficult, the simple life can be just as complicated.
A play that launched a career, and a thousand angry church newsletters. George Landen Dann was Queensland’s first major playwright and won both national and international awards for his work, which stood out in the 30s for dealing with the plight of Aboriginal Australians. George Landen Dann’s most [in]famous work, In Beauty it is Finished bookended his career. It launched him as a playwright in 1931 as the winner of the Brisbane Repertory theatre society’s national playwriting competition. It was also the last of his works to be produced, and the last he saw performed before he passed away in 1977.
The play deals with themes of isolation, belonging, and familial duty. These are weaved through characters struggling to fit into the (white) Australian lifestyle, and culminate in revelations concerning both sides of identity: who we are born, and what we become.
“It is clear that these works deserve attention, both as historical documents but also as creative works that still might have something to say, to be analysed, critiqued and reconsidered anew by Indigenous and non-Indigenous theatre-makers,” Susan Davis.
In Beauty it is Finished was first performed at His Majesty’s Theatre in 1931 by the Brisbane Repertory Theatre Society, after winning their National playwriting competition. Prior to opening, In Beauty it is Finished sparked public controversy when a local publication claimed that the play contained ‘sordid’ content. Church leaders preached from the pulpit against the play and condemned it in their newsletters, fanning a growing sense of moral outrage. After this sensationalist build-up, the production to played to packed houses, with audience members surprised that the play proceeded uninterrupted and with minimal censorship.
ISBN 978 1 921390 23 4