First time round he paired it with Farquhar’s 1706 “The Recruiting Officer” – the restoration comedy which the rather proper Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark is rehearsing with a motley cast of convicts – but it stands perfectly adequately alone.

Set in the penal colony at Sydney Cove, New South Wales in 1789, it features a cast of felons of various degrees of criminality and the naval officers in charge of them.

Convinced of the redemptive power of art (and despite strong opposition from some of his fellow officers) the enlightened governor Captain Philip encourages Clark’s production and, in so doing, builds both solidarity and commitment among the initially unwilling transportees.

Neatly doubling roles, the cast play characters on both sides of the law, with both humorous and touching results.

And, even when the threat of the hangman’s noose hovers close, the transformative power of the theatre helps the prisoners to find an unexpected resilience and a united voice in this modern classic in which even the title has a double resonance.

St James, 21 Palace Street, SW1E 5JA
Tube | Victoria
Extended to 23rd March  
£35.00 – £42.50 (premium seats £50)
stjamestheatre.co.uk

Photo: Robert Workman