The play tells the story of convicts and Royal Marines sent to Australia in the late 1780s as part of the first penal colony there. It follows Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark’s attempts to put on a production of George Farquhar’s comedy play called “The Recruiting Officer” with a cast of male and female convicts. The play also shows interesting turning points for the convicts and their attitude towards the George Farquhar play, which now will be looked into more detail. When the play is first proposed:
Upon arrival in Australia, the Governor-in-Chief Captain Arthur Phillips suggests an activity or a form of education for the convicts during their stay. Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark takes on the idea to perform a play and decides on the comedy “The Recruiting Officer”. Midshipman Harry Brewer likes the idea, but Captain Watkin Tench laughs at the very idea. Nevertheless, Ralph Clark calls upon the first convict Meg Long who is very old and smelly, and who has no idea that Ralph is talking about making a theatric play; she thinks he means something sexual by the word “play”.
Even still, she tells Ralph Clark that she will do whatever he wants. Moments later, a Robert Sideway shows up and is very intrigued by doing a play and tells a story about when he used to pick pocket outside a theatre in London. He is very enthusiastic with his words “I beg you, I entreat you, to let me perform on your stage, to let me feel once again the thrill of a play about to begin…”. Thereafter, another two female convicts arrive; Dabby Bryant and Mary Brenham. Mary is extremely shy, but has the ability to read unlike Dabby, although Dabby is very enthusiastic about the play.
Afterwards, Liz Morden appears. She seems to be a very harsh lady and snatches the book from Ralph and says “I understand you want me in your play, Lieutenant. Is that it? I’ll look at it and let you know. ” These words signal anger and pride, but still a slight interest in being included in the play. The reactions of the Royal Marines are in fact quite different. In Act One, Scene Six they hear about the newfound idea of making a play with the convicts. Major Robbie Ross is the one who is the most against the idea of having a play.
He believes the convicts are there to be punished for their crimes, “You want this vice-ridden vermin to enjoy themselves? ” Captain Watkin Tench is on Ross’s side and believes the convicts should do hard labour instead of leisure. The Reverend Johnson agrees that the play is unable to uphold Christian values and therefore decides that the play should not be allowed. He does not believe that the convicts can reform. The only neutral person in this discussion is Lieutenant Will Dawes who does not care if the play is there or not “Put the play on, don’t put it on, it won’t change the shape of the universe.
” Only Ralph Clark and Governor Phillips believe in the idea of redemption and change for the convicts, and thus building up a society amongst them all. Therefore, the Governor allows the play to proceed as Ralph Clark intended. Whilst the play is being rehearsed: Many of the convicts are disappointed in the roles they have received and there is constant confusion of the disappearance of Kable and John Arscott, where some are indicating that they have escaped. The convicts appear to be having misconceptions about acting although they are trying their best to perform.
Liz Morden who appeared to be a having a negative attitude towards everything, seems now to have a more formal way of speaking and is very enthusiastic about her lines, but only remembers them because they were read to her and therefore speaks very fast. She also seems to have gained a nicer approach to her inmates “Thank you, Lucy, I do much appreciate your effort. ” Ralph Clark performs a major leading role in teaching the convicts how to read their lines and act it out at the same time. He is still very interested in the play.
But Major Ross ruins their rehearsals when he enters and disrupts their play by accusing Ralph for the escape of Arscott and Kable “Five men have run away and it’s all because of your damned play and your so-called thespists. ” After the incident, half of the convicts end up enchained and Ralph Clark is considering shutting down the play, but Governor Phillips explains that he should not. Liz Morden, John Wisehammer, John Arscott and Black Caesar are all in chains, but still continue to rehearse the play. This gives an idea of a newfound passion for the play and a new aim in their lives before they are hanged.
In the second rehearsal, some convicts are still in chains and Major Ross does everything he can to disrupt the play. Ralph makes a fool of Ross by telling him to leave “Major, there is a modesty attached to the process of creation, which must be respected. ” This makes Ross even more angered and turns it around on the convicts. He makes fun of the convicts who still try to rehearse passionately. The rehearsal is stopped by the sound of Arscott’s cries. Later on, we see that Wisehammer wants to become a famous writer and he tells Ralph that he has written a new introduction for the play.
The convicts are now all very into the play and they rehearse with great passion. Even when all the convicts are not present, they are forced to act to different characters, but they are willing and able. There are also some deeper emotions going on between the convicts and between Ralph and Mary. Ralph gets jealous when Wisehammer kisses Mary during the rehearsals, but Wisehammer feels it is part of the play and it should be taken seriously. Later on in Act Two, Scene Nine, Ralph and Mary are rehearsing together and they grow fond of each other as they act.
“What you please as to that. Will you lodge at my quarters in the meantime? You shall have part of my bed. Silvia. Mary”. Ralph uses the words of the play to indicate his feelings for Mary and they both undress. By the conclusion of the play: In Act Two, Scene Ten, the Royal Marines are discussing the innocence of Liz Morden, and as she will not speak they think she is guilty (of stealing some food). But Governor Phillips reminds her of the play and she then speaks. This directly means she feels an obligation to her friends, and that dying would matter.
She now feels she has something to live for and that is the play. Her words have also become more formal and she no longer sounds like a convict “Your Excellency, I will endeavour to speak Mr Farquhar’s lines with the elegance and clarity their own worth commands. ” The play has brought everyone together and everyone has become nicer to everyone. During the backstage before the performance they discuss how to take the bow, which displays confidence in their upcoming performance and everyone is now focused on the play.
Even Dabby is “suddenly transfixed” but she still wants to escape after their first performance which will get Ralph into trouble, so Mary is against it. Everyone pushes everyone to participate and motivates them. Black Caesar has stage fright but is forced to do it by his inmates. Wisehammer recites his new prologue which is surprisingly good which indicates his passion for writing and for the play itself. In conclusion, all the convicts have been convinced by the end of the play and they now feel the magic that the play contains and it had brought them all together, during rehearsals and throughout till the end.