A: Timberlake Wertenbaker Pf: 1988, London Pb: 1988 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Convict ship and settlement, Australia, 1787–9 C: 17m, 5fIn 1787 the first convicts are shipped to Australia, guarded by naval officers who rule the colony with military discipline. Despite the humane attitude of Governor Arthur Phillip, convicts are flogged for insubordination, and three are hanged for theft. Midshipman Harry Brewer is haunted by Handy Baker, a marine whom he hanged for stealing and who was his rival in love for Duckling, a young convict. Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark proposes to stage Farquhar's The Recruiting Officer, to celebrate the King's birthday in 1789 and to humanize the convicts. His plan is opposed by more conventionally minded officers, but Governor Phillip, wishing to ‘help create a new society in this colony’, gives his blessing to the project. Many of his cast are illiterate, none has experience of acting, and there is tension between the participants, especially when they are joined by the hangman Ketch Freeman. Problems mount, when ‘Melinda’, played by convict Liz Morden, narrowly avoids hanging for allegedly helping prisoners to escape, and Harry Brewer finally collapses and dies. Ralph becomes close to convict Mary Brenham, and purportedly rehearsing his role of Plume, declares his love for her as the character Silvia. Ralph rejects as too political a prologue written by a convict: ‘We left our country for our country's good.’ At last, the play is performed to resounding success, the first to be staged on Australian soil. Throughout, an Aborigine observes the curious white arrivals and concludes that they are not from the Dreamtime.
A: Timberlake Wertenbaker Pf: 1988, London Pb: 1988 G: Drama in 2 acts S: Convict ship and settlement, Australia, 1787–9 C: 17m, 5f
Based on Thomas Kinneally's novel The Playmaker (1987), itself based on historical fact, Wertenbaker's best-known play celebrates the redemptive power of theatre and explores the ethics of punishment and redemption in the creation of a new society.