The estate of one of the 20th century's greatest playwrights, Samuel Beckett, has blocked a production of one of his best-known works, Waiting for Godot, at the Edinburgh Festival fringe because it was to be acted by women.
A Manchester-based theatre company had to call off its show just weeks before the curtain was due to rise after the estate ruled the "production in drag" could bring ridicule upon the author.
The company tried to persuade the estate that by having women act the roles of the two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, it would bring the play up to date by showing that their plight was that of mankind and not just of men alone. However the estate refused.
Grimey Up North had spent months preparing the production for a week-long run of the production which is widely regarded as the beginning of modern theatre. Actresses Jo Heathcote (38) and Jo Waddington (17) had donned baggy trousers and spent months rehearsing the famous the conversation between the two tramps as they patiently wait for Godot.
The struggling theatre company had spent £17,500 on publicity for the play, printing 2,000 posters and 3,000 flyers. It says a mix-up led to it being originally assured by the Beckett estate's agents in Britain, Curtis Brown, that it could go ahead with the two wo men acting Vladimir and Estragon. The company insists there was a delay of five months in its receiving the contract for the play which contains a clause specifying that the gender of the actors cannot be changed.
The company tried to persuade the Beckett estate to relax its conditions but the ruling stood that the characters had to be acted by men. Company director Mr Eren Ozagir said he was very disappointed. "The Beckett estate just thought we were a gay rights group or that we had a political motive but that wasn't the case at all." The estate believed it was a transvestite production, he added.
Mr Peter Brown of Curtis Brown defended the estate's position. "This is not sexist, it is artistic. The copyright is owned by the Beckett estate and the estate has the right to determine how a production is performed. It is most unfortunate that we have to pull this because they are nice people and we wish things could have been otherwise."
However he said it was necessary to be more strict with work by the Beckett because his plays were so specific. "To do something different is not what he wrote." The licence to perform the play contained the following clause: "It is a condition that the play should be performed as written and the indications to the sex of the characters and performers must be followed at all times."
Mr Brown said the production company had changed the gender of the performers by doing the production in drag "and that is unfortunate". The estate of Samuel Beckett is governed by the Parisian literary executor Gerome Lindon and major decisions are taken between him, Samuel Beckett's nephew Mr Edward Beckett, and Curtis Brown.
The head of the Samuel Beckett Society, Prof James Knowlson, said Beckett always attended rehearsals of his plays. "He always took the attitude that Waiting for Godot was a play for four male figures and one boy and he did actually feel quite strongly about that. There are reference to prostate problems and he just felt that it did not make sense to have the play acted out by women."