A BEHIND-THE-SCENES drama has forced Belvoir and Malthouse Theatre Companies to cancel plans to stage “The Philadelphia Story” next year, meaning that we won’t see it in Canberra as part of the Canberra Theatre’s subscription season.It has emerged that Ellen Barry, the wife of playwright Phillip Barry, was actually a co-author of the work, but has not been publicly credited in published versions of the play.
Barry died in 1949, so his work is not subject to copyright in Australia, but because his wife died more recently, her copyright is still in effect and in the wash-up, her estate has not granted Belvoir the rights to stage the play.
But the show, in this case the Canberra Theatre season, must go on, so the companies are replacing “The Philadelphia Story” with what they are calling “ ‘The Government Inspector’ by Simon Stone after Nikolai Gogol” in the same spot, May 28 to 31.
Many Citynews readers will be aware that Stone is the controversial director/adapter who has been criticised for playing fast and loose with the classics and applying his own name to them, though he has been quick to defend himself by saying, “every play ever written is a rewrite of something”.
Gogol, one of Russia’s most revered prerevolutionary writers, is long dead and well and truly out of copyright, so there’ll be no problems on that count. That stands in marked contrast to Stone’s experience with the Arthur Miller estate after he cut the seminal play “Death of a Salesman” without authorisation.
Canberra Theatre patrons have seen Gogol’s play quite recently, in 2007, when former ANU academic, Roger Pulvers, adapted “The Government Inspector” for two actors in a production directed by John Bell. The difference is that Pulvers did not claim authorship.
Stone describes “The Government Inspector” as “such a witty and cutting play, with real relevance to the political circus we see around us, day after day.”
It’s the quintessential play about bureaucracy, set in Czarist Russia. When the social-climbing inhabitants of a small town mistake a nobody for the important government inspector they’ve been awaiting, all hell breaks loose. “The Government Inspector” is one of the most popular plays in the theatrical repertoire around the world, and was even made into a film titled “The Inspector General,” starring Danny Kaye.
Director of Canberra Theatre Centre Bruce Carmichael is putting a brave face on a change saying, “the play resonates with Canberra.”
He could be right about that.
“The Government Inspector” at the Playhouse, May 28-31, bookings to 6275 2700 or canberratheatrecentre.com.au