Many of the scenes within act 1 are very important as they concern character development, the value of theatre and other key aspects of the play.
In scene 3, men are out shooting birds. Phillip’s nature is explored and an audience would begin to understand how he differs from the other officers and soldiers in charge of the colony.
“Was it really necessary to cross fifteen thousand miles of ocean to erect another Tyburn?”Order now
As Phillip’s opening line the audience would see from the outset that Phillip is looking for a fresh start, and that it is pointless for the guilty men to travel so far just to be slaughtered. In contrast Tench doesn’t seem to care about the convicts at all.
“I think it would make them feel at home.”
This is a ridiculous statement that suggests that Tench has no interest in the subject. Another key issue that is dealt with in this scene is the debate about whether people have the potential to be reformed, or not. Tench appears not to have any faith in the potential of the convicts “The convicts never left their old ways, Governor, nor do they intend to.” Phillip however is looking for a fresh start on this new land. He seems to believe that with help, the convicts can reform. This introduces the idea of a play for the convicts to perform; oddly enough the idea seems to have sprouted from Tench’s sarcastic suggestion that an opera house could be built for the convicts. Tench is of the opinion that hanging is the convicts’ form of theatre and that it would be unfair to deprive them of the entertainment. “It’s their theatre, Governor, you cannot change that.” The audience is able to see how open minded Phillip is as he would rather they saw “real plays: fine language, sentiment.”
Collins is another character that the audience is introduced to in this scene. He is a man who follows English law and believes that that is the only option.
“This land is under English law. The court found them guilty and sentenced them accordingly.”
This is a more reasonable stance than that of Tench who seems to revel in his superior position. Collins on the other hand is aware of how useful hanging people is, as it serves as an example to other men. He doesn’t agree with Phillip’s suggestion of flogging, as the death is “slow, unobserved and cannot serve as a sharp example.” Collins appreciates how Phillip wishes to “oppose the baneful influence of vice with the harmonizing arts of civilization. ” But feels that his attempts are futile and will collapse “without the mortar of fear.” Collins appears to have more faith in laws than in humanity.
Part of a 21st century audience might be surprised by the severity of the punishments for crimes, at that time, but what must be remembered is that Wertenbaker has used historical facts as guidelines.
One of the main themes of the play is the merit of theatre, scene 6 therefore is crucial to the plot. Each of the character’s opinions about the Recruiting Officer are clearly explained, an audience is able to see how the decision to show the play has been formed. The question of whether man can be reformed or not continues to be explored. Phillip re-affirms his opinion “Surely they can also be reformed” Tench continues to see the play as a “waste of time” he still has no faith in the potential of the convicts, who in his eyes “all have a habit of vice and crime” This lack of change in Tench’s view is ironic as his negative feelings towards the convicts are his own “vice and crime” as they prevent him from seeing the possibilities of rehabilitation.
Ralph is able to see positive change in some of the convicts behaviour “they seemed to acquire a dignity” “they seemed to lose some of their corruption” This is crucial â€“ it marks how right Phillip was in his initial suggestion that reform was possible through the play. An audience would see how even in the worst of situations, with people of the most unfortunate backgrounds, with a little encouragement and opportunity rehabilitation is possible.
The farcical democracy sustained by Collins ensures that the play is allowed to continue. Each character is permitted a vote but only the positive opinions are considered for any length time.
“Ross I – I â€“
Collins We have taken your disagreement into account.”
Collins is portrayed as the voice of reason and acts as the judge of whether or not the play should go on. He decides that it should, if only as an “interesting experiment” Phillip remains certain that the play will be a success. “The last word will be in the play, gentlemen.” This is crucial as his dignity and pride now lie in the hands of the convicts.
The two scenes that I chose for their crucial nature and pivotal content are rich separately but also are interesting when looked at together to see the passing of time and development of characters.