This play by Timberlake Wertenbaker, based on the novel “The Playmaker” by Thomas Keneally, challenges both the actors and the audience. It is a play that really explores what the theatre is all about. Lt Clark comments that those who cannot concentrate shouldn’t really be in the theatre.
Concentration is very much needed, by both actors and audience. The success of the play very much depends on the cast’s ability to accurately explain the ongoing conflicts within both the prisoner community and the office corps. With the cast switching roles this makes it technically demanding. This was a challenge undertaken and accomplished by thoughtful direction and staging.
For the actors this play is a real test, and it does credit to Pirton Players that they have the confidence to take on such a demanding enterprise. There must have been some understandable trepidation at the outset, but I am pleased that their ambition to expand the repertoire culminated in this production.
The central theme of the play is for a production of “The Recruiting Officer” to be put on by convicts, who had been transported to a prison camp in Australia and the reasons why this enterprise is taken on.
It shows that even in the 18th century there were those who had a more human approach and did not rely strictly on severe punishment for those who perpetrated misdemeanours against society.
This was based on a real event, with real characters. It behoves the cast to take time to really understand the complexities of the personae developed within different roles. They had to make the audience believe in them, believe in the sadness of their lot whether they were the poor criminals, or the officers who were charged to look after them. That the “Recruiting Officer” was going to be a release from the strictures of their miserable existence was most crucial in the development of the plot.
The sparseness of the set underlined the poverty of the life of the characters, as they struggled to come to terms with the hand that fate had dealt them. What terrible crimes had the prisoners committed to justify being exiled? Well, the crimes were of such a petty nature and the injustice of this was amply shown during the performance. Why had the officers been picked out for such an unrewarding duty? The conflict between the Officer set was also brought forward and displayed with both humour and authoritarian cruelty.
The hard work put in by everyone connected with this play was clear to be seen, and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and was at one with the conflict between the benevolent Lt. Clark and the terse demanding Major Ross. For me the play was heartening, touching and exceptionally amusing.
With such a wealth of talent on display, it would not be appropriate to single out individual performances, except to say it was refreshing to see new faces treading the boards. A special mention however, for Sue Kennedy, who finally was able to show us how gifted a character actress she is.
I am sure the Director, was thrilled by the end product, as were the audience. Well done and thank you to everyone involved, that includes the technical crew – of course.
Let’s remember the message Lt. Clark wanted to leave us with: “I ask you to keep in mind the play, to cling to the play as the thing which will give you your spirit back”. The last words, which I believe encapsulate what the theatre is all about, come from Wisehammer “A play should make you understand something new. If it tells you what you already know, you leave it as ignorant as you went in”.
[Review by: Dennis Sexton]
Director - Roger Blackburn
Aboriginal Australian Man (Voice over) - Kaffe Jungreuthmayer
Dabby Bryant - Janet Tackley
Duckling Smith - Helen Walker
John Wisehammer - Richard Eccles
Ketch Freeman - Tom Gammell
Liz Morden - Lou Robinson
Major Robbie Ross, RM - Tom Gammell
Mary Brenham - Debbie Keating
Meg Long - Sue Kennedy
Midshipman Harry Brewer, RN (Provost Marshal) - Michael Tackley
Robert Sideway - Neil Insull
Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, RM - Anton Jungreuthmayer
Director - Roger Blackburn