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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story from early Australian history
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...
Published on 30 Sep 2001 by Jane weber

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3.0 out of 5 stars Distant Land
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...
Published 6 months ago by Richard Wright


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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating story from early Australian history, 30 Sep 2001
By 
Jane weber (Stanmore, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Playmaker (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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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lost in space . . ., 22 Mar 2004
By 
Stephen A. Haines (Ottawa, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Playmaker (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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly researched and vividly brings to life the settlement of Australia., 29 Nov 2006
By 
Adam (Midlands, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Playmaker (Paperback)
I love this book. I'm biased because I wrote my dissertaion on this and other documents surrounding the events depicted in the book. One of the great pleasures for me was being able to research into the real lives of many of the characters in The Playmaker. It is possible to download the journal of Watkin Tench, Ralph Clark's surviving journals have been published and there seems to be a resurgence of interest in the early years of transportation to Australia. (There was a recently televised mini series about the exceptional story of Mary 'Dabby' Bryant too). Also worth checking out are Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, a play inspired by this book, and The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes which is a tremendously readable historical account of the Australian transportation saga.

All of the contemporary prejudices about class and race are carefully delineated and Keneally is frequently funny and profound in creating this world using his 'absolute' palette of oppositional adjectives which jar the senses. Instead of binary white and black, good and bad stereotypes we are forced to consider the intervening and imprecise reality of what it means to be human.

On a more personal level I fell absolutely in love (no graduated shades here) with an astonishingly beautiful person while reading this for the first time. If possible I would recommend that you try and do the same. Don't be in too much of a hurry to get to the end, the journey is amazing - tragic, painful and yet somehow complete with charm and wonder.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the all-time great historical novels., 19 Jan 2003
By 
Mary Whipple (New England) - See all my reviews
(HALL OF FAME REVIEWER)    (TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Playmaker (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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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars wonderful, 10 Jan 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Playmaker (Paperback)
The Playmaker is truely a wonderful book. It considers many points and issues that are very important to each individual person and I would encourage all academic and intellectual persons to read this book. What is particulary interesting is the way Keneally is able to skillfully convince the reader of the relationships between men and women on the penal colony where it is set.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 16 May 2014
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This review is from: The Playmaker (Paperback)
Excellent book and couldn't put it down. Can't wait to read it again! Saw the play at Fairfield Croydon also.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Distant Land, 5 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Playmaker (Kindle Edition)
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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5.0 out of 5 stars purchase of book, 22 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Playmaker (Paperback)
Great looking read and efficiently dispatched. This was a present for someone so I have only skimmed through, no doubt much discussion will ensue.
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5.0 out of 5 stars `Stealing time seems a heavy crime with the judges.', 11 Feb 2010
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Playmaker (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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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mildly engrossing,Humourous novel., 25 Sep 2000
This review is from: The Playmaker (Paperback)
The Playmaker is an odd and surreal book,particularly due to the fact it's based on another book,The Recruiting Officer,by George Farquhar.This is faction,not fiction and follows the day by day life of an officer,Ralph Clark.His task is to select convicts so they may produce a production of the play to show the King,who's paying a visit.This book mixes complex relations with mild humour and is an enthralling read.Written by the author of Schindler's Ark[the film is Schindlers list].
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The Playmaker
The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally (Paperback - 19 Nov 1993)
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