The Playmaker, Paperback Book
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


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.

As felons, perjurers and whores rehearse, their playmaker becomes strangely seduced.

For the play's power is mirrored in the rich, varied life of this primitive land, and, not least, in the convict and actress, Mary Brenham.


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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

Australian convicts and overseers stage a play and explore their relationships. I suppose people might find it interesting that the characters were broadly based on real people, but I put the book down feeling a bit 'meh'.

Review by

Thomas Keneally brings history to life in a story rich with detail and humanity. Lieutenant Ralph Clark is the honest and fallible playmaker, uniting the early settlers of Sydney, Australia - the 'lags', or convicts, and those sent to guard them, the officials and marines also exiled from home. The plot meanders along from character to character, from geographical discovery to personal revelation. The historical background and individual vignettes are loosely linked together by Ralph's efforts to rehearse and stage an amateur production of Farqhar's 'The Recruiting Officer', cast with the convict inhabitants of the penal colony, but the real attraction is the descriptive and personable fleshing out of the men and women in the real Lieutenant Clark's journal and letters. This work of fiction really sends the reader back in time to Australia in the 1780s, and Ralph becomes a dear friend - I fell deeply for Keneally's portrait of his character, and wished him all the best with his tentative, earnest 'marriage' to one of the 'she-lags' he initially mistrusts and avoids. Informative, evocative, with a streak of droll Australian humour to lighten the dialogue.