In the post-show discussion of Our Country’s Good, director Max Stafford-Clark says that he has returned to Timberlake Wertenbaker’s stunning play out of ‘pure indulgence’ – and it is easy to see why. Atmospheric sounds, lighting and a perfect set combine with a brilliant cast to create an inspiring piece of theatre.
Based on real people and events, the play focuses on a group of marines and convicts in the 1780s that sail with the First Fleet to a colony in New South Wales. One Lieutenant, Ralph Clark, decides to direct the convicts in a production of The Recruiting Officer, and through this the play examines the class system in the camp, the judicial system used, and the ‘humanising force’ of the theatre.
Performed by an ensemble of ten actors, the doubling up of roles is involved, with everyone, save for Dominic Thorburn (who plays a superb Ralph Clark), playing two, even three or four parts. The ensemble are all excellent; it is a great testament to their acting ability, as they change their accent and body language in seconds to become different characters. This was particularly evident in Ciarán Owens, who played the good-natured, Irish hangman Ketch Freeman, before slipping offstage and reappearing a second later, switching effortlessly to the cold and loathsome Major Robbie Ross.
Polished and accomplished from start to finish, this play brings many elements together to create a piece which is emotional yet comic, political but also heart-warming.
A love triangle emerges, new friendships are formed while others are broken, and officers clash over their opinions of the convicts. One particularly brilliant yet bittersweet scene involves Sideway (Matthew Needham) and Liz (Kathryn O’Reilly) boldly rehearsing in defiance of Major Ross’s humiliation of the convicts; however they struggle to keep it up due to the sounds of a flogging offstage. If we’re insisting on being pernickety, some accents wavered slightly, but I do not hesitate to say that this is a marvellous, almost faultless production that displays some fantastic acting talent.
While the production itself is amazing, it is also Wertenbaker’s script that makes this a compelling and beautiful piece of theatre. In a time when the arts are facing difficulties due to funding cuts, this play echoes the feelings of many for the theatre, commenting on how it can have such a positive social effect on so many. It is most definitely relatable for anyone that has ever had a love for, or being involved in, theatre. The incredible final scene of the play is one that will trigger memories of backstage pre-show mayhem, but also resonates with everyone the importance of theatre and how it touches those who are involved in it, reflecting the escape found in a play.
But regardless of your own personal connection with plays, this is one that everyone should see: it will have you exclaiming ‘I love this!’ along with convict Mary Brenham as you are blown away by the full power of the theatre.