The British government sent a fleet to colonize Australia. They traveled for eight months before reaching their destination. Of the 736 convicts onboard, not one was convicted of murder or rape, nor were the women being transported convicted of prostitution; the vast majority of the convicts had only been convicted of minor theft. The penalties were severe – generally death by public hanging. Most of the convicts had been found guilty of stealing, been sentenced to hang, and then had their sentence commuted to exile for the rest of their lives. Upon arrival in the prison camp in Australia, which will one day grow into the city of Sydney, the prisoners are ordered to produce a play in order to speed their rehabilitation.
A Matter of Historical Record
This is the basis for Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play, “Our Country’s Good”, based on the novel The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally (author of Schindler’s List). The characters in the story, convict and officer alike, did indeed exist, and the sources for both play and book are the letters and journals of Ralph Clark, Watkin Tench and David Collins. The 1789 convict production of Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, directed by 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark, is a matter of historical record. But it is more than that, it is also a remarkable tale of the power that theatre has to transform and humanize – even those convicted of petty theft.
Satire and Ambition
The Fúría theatre group of Kvennaskólinn í Reykjavík secondary school tackles the satire with ambition. “The main reason why this play was chosen is because I saw it on stage in London and was deeply touched by it, and the other reason is that it has dialogue for 20 people and thus we could involve most of the students who were eager to act in it. We actually started before the New Year with a workshop on acting and through that process I could see what roles fitted most of them,” says director Margrét Eir.
Coloured with Black Humour
“This is not a typical college production; most of the other schools focus on musicals with very little dialogue. This play is challenging because it contains such wealth of dialogue and some of the actors are on stage almost the entire play. The dialogue is coloured with black humour, however the underlying current is quite political, dealing with the ethical question: should convicts be rehabilitated or just punished?” say Anna Margrét and Kristín Ruth, two of the organizers for Fúría.