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The Playmaker [Kindle Edition]

Thomas Keneally
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

Print List Price: £16.99
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Book Description

In 1789 in Sydney Cove, the remotest penal colony of the British Empire, a group of convicts and one of their captors unite to stage a play. As felons, perjurers and whores rehearse, their playmaker becomes strangely seduced. For the play's power is mirrored in the rich, varied life of this primitive land, and, not least, in the convict and actress, Mary Brenham.



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Review

Formidably good . . . strong, subtle, echoing and profound (The Sunday Times)

A magnificent and moving documentary, a tribute to his roots (Mail on Sunday)

He seizes with stunning effect on an event far more bizarre than any fiction (New Statesman)

An excellent novel (Independent)

The literary joy here has more to do with how individual each characterisation is, each one tuned to another note of Keneally's rich, strong prose (Kirkus Reviews)

This is Mr Keneally at his best (Daily Telegraph)

Punchy, highly intelligent (Financial Times)

Mingles meticulous research with lucid characterisation (Daily Mail)

The best Australian writer alive (Auberon Waugh)

Book Description

In 1789 in Sydney Cove, the remotest penal colony of the British Empire, a group of convicts and one of their captors unite to stage a play.

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4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story from early Australian history 30 Sept. 2001
Format:Paperback
A story set in the first days of European settlement of Australia. With the colony a little over 12 months old, the Governor (the unnamed H.E. - historically Arthur Phillip) commissions a play to celebrate George the Third's birthday in 2 months hence. Keneally captures the uniqueness of this colony set on the other side of the world from mother Britain, a society consisting of convicts and the military guarding them. The stage is set for a clash of cultures - the respectable middle classes of the officer class and the underbelly of London represented by the convicts. It is violent society - the story opens the day after the hanging of a marine.
The characters and incidents described are based on fact, and is an excellent snapshot of Australian history.
The young protagonist, Ralph Clark, is given the responsibility of staging the play using convict actors. Ralph loves his wife and child back home but comes to feel the isolation of the new colony, descibed by Keneally a new planet.
The sense of isolation is one of the most compelling aspects of the colony as Keneally makes clear. Using imagery of planets and the universe - a comparison can be made with the isolation that would be felt if we settled a colony on Mars or a moon of Jupiter today, and affects all the characters.
As an Australian I found the novel fascinating. The sense of isolation and distance of the story is even greater if you know some Australian history.
The most surrealistic aspect of the novel for me is the knowledge that about 6 months after the story closes the colony's food began to run out. By the time relief ships arrived 12 months later (bearing food, news and more convicts) the colony was virtually starving. The Playmaker represents the lull before the famine, and is more poignant to me for the knowledge of what is about to befall the characters.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lost in space . . . 22 Mar. 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
Format:Paperback
This finely crafted work is one of Keneally's most notable. Portraying a man in an agony of moral conflict over his love for a woman convict yet constantly aware of the family left behind in England, The Playmaker addresses human feelings at many levels. Like so many of his books, Keneally has taken figures from history, weaving a plausible tale of the life they might have led. His examination of the mind and heart of Lieutenant Ralph Clark, during the early years of the Port Jackson [Sydney] prison colony, a is deeply moving account. Far from home, these exiled people face disturbing choices. Keneally compares the founders of the Sydney colony with space travellers, isolated in a dangerous situation with limited resources.
Clark's task is the staging of a play in celebration of the king's birthday. Assembling a cast from the convicts, he's confronted with a range of personalities from house maids to forgers. Keneally's research has dredged up backgrounds of these transported felons; the thieves' guild oath is a particularly fine touch. His real talent, however, is in presenting this material through his characters . Each of his figures projects a reality surpassing other writers of historical fiction. While his descriptive narrative may make modern allusions, none of his persona are dragged out of their original time frame. Ralph Clark is particularly well drawn. Keneally has a special talent for presenting us with an 18th Century man's feelings and aspirations as much as it's possible for us to know them.
That this book has been returned to the active sales list is a testament to its value. It should be read by more people. The 18th Century setting is less important than what Keneally has to say about people. Add this book to your shelves with confidence. It's worth more than a single read.
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Format:Paperback
In 1788, the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay to establish a penal colony. In 1789, Lieutenant Ralph Clark is commissioned by H.E. (unnamed in the novel but historically Governor Arthur Phillip) to stage a play in honour of the King's birthday. George Farquhar's comedy `The Recruiting Officer' (first performed in 1706) is the play: the fact that the colony possessed only two copies of the script was the least of the handicaps to be overcome. Lieutenant Clark selects his cast from the convicts: burglars, whores and highwaymen. Most of the convicts are illiterate, rehearsals will be challenging and costuming rudimentary.

There are many levels to this novel. Staging the play - bringing British culture to the Antipodes - provides a backdrop for this period of the tentative new colony. Ralph Clark himself is torn between the family he has left behind and his feelings for a female convict who is one of the actors in the play. Woven around historical fact, this novel brings people and place to life. The play, that civilizing event, is being staged in a struggling community formed by exile.

I enjoyed this novel and Mr Keneally's depiction of this period of Australia's colonial history. Thomas Keneally wrote in the epilogue: `For yes, though they are fantastical creatures, they all lived.' Imagine that.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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3.0 out of 5 stars Distant Land 5 Feb. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Timberlake Wertenbaker's 'Our Country's Good is among my favourite plays, and as this is the book on which it's based I came to it with high expectations. Some were met, while others were not. The depiction of Australia as a foreign world is beautiful, and makes a fine backdrop to the story of Lieutenant Ralph Clark rallying a bunch of prisoners to rehearse and perform a play for the King's birthday. If anything however, it's slightly underused. With Ralph as the point of view character, the world in which the convicts live remains a distant thing that can only be understood second hand, and for me the story suffers within this limitation. Clark's dilemmas, including his infatuation with one of the convicts he directs, are for the most only mildly dramatic, and his inactions were a source of deep frustration as I read along with them. The drama lifts somewhat in the presence of the secondary cast, particularly as the back stories that brought them to Australia unfold, but the novel has little of the thematic precision demonstrated by the play it spawned. By no means a bad book - it's beautifully written, and captures an uneasy time and setting very well - it nevertheless failed to excite me in quite the way I'd hoped.
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