Having been placed in chains, Liz, Wisehammer, Arscott, and Caesar sit next to each other as Liz relates her life story. She speaks about her difficult life, in which seemingly no one has respected her. “But here, the Governor says, new life,” she says, pondering the idea of a fresh start. However, she notes that Major Ross doesn’t like her, so it’s unlikely that her life will change. Turning her attention to Wisehammer, she asks why he’s in the penal colony, and he insists that he’s innocent. “It doesn’t matter what you say,” she replies. “If they say you’re a thief, you’re a thief.” Still, Wisehammer says he’ll return one day to England and prove his innocence, but Liz says nobody will listen to him. “You can’t live if you think that way,” he says.
In this scene, Liz expresses her pessimistic worldview, which aligns with her personal history, since she’s lived a hard and lonely life. Because of this, she thinks that nobody will ever listen to a criminal, which is why she tells Wisehammer that it “doesn’t matter” what he says to prove his innocence. Considering Tench’s earlier assertion that anyone who commits a crime is forever a criminal, Liz’s perspective is rather accurate—as bleak and depressing as this might sound to Wisehammer.
Liz and Wisehammer discuss the idea of returning to England after their sentences are over. Liz doesn’t think returning is worth it, but Wisehammer wants desperately to go back. Similarly, Caesar wants to return to Madagascar to “join [his] ancestors.” Interrupting, Arscott says, “There’s no escape!” As Caesar refutes this, Arscott tries to convince him to give up hope, saying that it’s impossible to find one’s way through Australia. He explains that he went in circles after getting away from the colony, and even though he had a compass, it didn’t work. “Why didn’t it work?” he asks, handing it to Wisehammer. “What does it say.” After examining it for a moment, Wisehammer informs him that the object isn’t a compass at all, but a piece of paper with the word “NORTH” written on it. “I gave my only shilling to a sailor for it,” Arscott laments.
Similar to Liz’s belief that it’s not even worth trying to prove their innocence once people think they’re criminals, Arscott gives up all hope of ever returning to England. When he produces the piece of paper he thought was a compass, Wertenbaker underlines the extent to which Arscott and the other prisoners have been deprived of rudimentary educational instruction. As such, the audience sees why giving them the opportunity to be in a play is unique and significant, since no one has ever helped them pursue an intellectual or artistic goal before.
As Wisehammer informs Arscott that the sailor who sold him the fake compass “betrayed” him, Sideway, Mary, and Duckling appear and tell the chained convicts that they’ve come to continue the rehearsal. “The Lieutenant has gone to talk to the Governor,” Duckling says. “Harry said we could come see you.” When Wisehammer asks how they’ll be able to act in chains, Mary says, “This is the theatre. We will believe you.” The group begins to act.
Although rehearsals have just begun, the play has already started to bring the convicts together. What’s more, Mary hints at the imaginative liberation that the artistic process inspires, assuring Wisehammer that he can pretend he’s not in chains and that everyone else will pretend along with him. In this sense, the convicts gain a sense of freedom.