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Jim Davis

1. From 1986 until 2003 I lived in Australia. In effect I was in exile from the UK and gaining a uniquely new perspective not only on Anglo-Australian relations but also on Britain’s colonial past. A particularly perceptive account of the imposition of British rule and culture on Australia occurred in Thomas Keneally’s The Playmaker (1987), which implicitly questions the certainties with which Britain believed it was spreading civilization and enlightenment around the world. The novel is based on the preparations for a performance of the first English play to be performed in Australia, George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, by convicts in 1789. While acknowledging that the experience of playmaking can be empowering, a dark and ironic note runs through Keneally’s novel, almost as if the very triumph of the performance. Signifies the erasure of other languages and cultures.

See link to extract from The Playmaker

2. In 1988 the Royal Court Theatre in London presented an adaptation of Keneally’s novel by Canadian playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker, Our Country’s Good, which was performed alongside a production of The Recruiting Officer. At a time of stringent cuts and the onset of Thatcherism, the play emphasised the value of education, penal reform and empowerment through the arts, in effect ‘colonising’ the novel to produce ‘a state of the nation’ play. The dark side of Keneally’s novel was sacrificed for the more immediate and contemporary message that Wertenbaker wished to communicate.

See link to extract from Our Country’s Good

3. Australia has a difficult cultural relationship with the UK. On the one hand there is the ‘cultural cringe’, a belief that anything British must be superior to anything Australian. On the other hand there is a justifiable resentment at the way Australian culture is often ignored or erased by the British. Thus a laudable attempt to argue theatrically for the arts, education and penal reform (debates still continuing, especially under the new coalition government), also becomes a form of appropriation, turning a novel about Australia into a play about England.

See link to Jim Davis, ‘A Play for England: The Royal Court adapts The Playmaker’

4. The world looks very different from Australia. I am trying here to highlight the insularity of the British and a failure to acknowledge or engage with the consequences of colonialism and a tendency to rewrite the past and present without considering other perspectives.