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The Playmaker Paperback – 24 Apr 2014

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The Playmaker + Our Country's Good: Based on the Novel the "Playmaker" by Thomas Kenneally (Student Editions) + Our Country's Good - Page to Stage: A Study-guide
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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Sceptre; New Ed edition (1 Nov. 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0340422637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0340422632
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.5 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 239,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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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FIRST Ralph heard again how Harry had-one evening in the settlement's first days-discovered Duckling's absence from her tent across the stream. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Jane weber on 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 By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on 22 Mar. 2004
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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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on 19 Jan. 2003
Format: Paperback
The earliest days of Sydney, Australia, and the prison colony which was its first population center provide a dynamic setting for this ambitious, old-fashioned novel. With a broad scope, grand design, and sensitive treatment of universal themes, it has the weightiness of an epic, but is far more vigorous and more involving than that, with vivid, sympathetic characters who come fully to life. Transported halfway around the world to a forbidding and alien landscape, men and women prisoners share their personal struggles, providing a vitality and emotional punch one does not often find in fiction. The reader soon discovers that the prisoners are not all that different, of course, from the civil servants and Marines who administer the colony--everyone in Port Jackson (Sydney) is a prisoner in some way or another, be it physical, spiritual, or emotional.
Lt. Ralph Clark's decision to produce George Farquhar's early 18th century comedy, The Recruiting Officer, with an all-prisoner cast leads to many emotional conflicts. Though the play provides the participants with a way to achieve a measure of dignity, they must still bow to the strictures of the colony off stage. Many prisoners wield cruel powers over other prisoners, while Marines and administrators exert power over both the prisoners and the aborigine inhabitants of the area. The church imposes additional restrictions on behavior. Against this backdrop of the restrictions on their lives, Keneally's characters are set in high relief, their humanity contrasting sharply with the impersonal forms of government which are imposed upon them.
Meticulously depicting 18th century England, its government, its penal system, and its social structure, along with early Australia, its first western inhabitants, the decimation of the aborigine population, and the social conflicts faced by its characters, this is one of Keneally's greatest novels, a timeless story based on real journals, stunning in its effect.
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