Review of The Convict Theatres of Early Australia 1788-1840, by Robert Jordan
'We left our Country for our Country's good' about sums up what is generally known about the convict actors who ingeniously improvised, organised and pushed to create the practices and institution of theatre in Australia. But like much else in this area, the much- cited 'Barrington's Prologue' is basically a colourful legend. 'The history of theatre in this period has remained a matter of recycling a handful of brief and well-known primary references and retailing ... a number of tall stories of obscure origin and doubtful authenticity' (I). Besides the dutiful repetition of inaccurate historical 'sources', the convict experience particularly attracts revisionary historiography, and inspires ideologically contested nationalist, gender or class narratives. Readers of Thomas Keneally's novel The Playmaker or of Timberlake Wertenbaker's play Our Country's Good, for example, are regaled with romantic fables of coarse crims and abandoned whores civilised by the enlightened gentry through tuition in art practices.
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