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Nottingham.

OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD: Timberlake Wertenbaker.
4Stars****


Nottingham Playhouse.
www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk.
Runs: 3h 0m: one interval: till 24th March.
Performance times 7.30pm (matinées 1.30pm Thurs 15th and 22nd, 2.30pm Sat 24th).
Audio Described at all performances.
Review: Alan Geary: 13th March 2018.


Splendid play. Fine production.

Adapted from Thomas Keneally’s novel The Playmaker, which was in turn based on historical fact, Our Country’s Good is a wonderful play at many levels. And, directed by Fiona Buffini, this particular production is noteworthy in a lot of respects.

Some newly arrived convicts in the first penal colony to be established in Australia are cajoled by Lieutenant Ralph Clark into staging a play, Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. And despite their own inadequacies and the severe privations and brutality of the regime they succeed.

Along the way we’re offered a moving argument for the civilising role of theatre in this or any society. Moreover the meta-theatrical element arising from a play within a play generates a lot of insightful humour.

But the central issue examined is the nature/nurture argument: are criminals born or made? The humane Governor Phillip (an excellent Kieron Jecchinis) argues that his charges have been exiled from England as a punishment. But for the sadistic Major Ross (Colin Connor) they have been exiled to be punished when they get there. There’s a wonderful scene when the assembled officers debate the issue; which, given period and place, is a far from straightforward one.

Another exquisite encounter comes when the moral and idealistic Lieutenant Clark, who has succumbed to self-doubt, is uplifted by the Aristotelian arguments of the well-educated Governor Phillip.

Sapphire Joy, in a nicely subtle performance, is Mary. One of the few literate convicts, she’s cast as the upper-class Sylvia in the inner play – playing a nervous amateur actor is a challenge for any actor. Garry Robson, as decent old sweat Midshipman Harry Brewer, the most junior officer in the colony, and Fergus Rattigan as Ketch, a confused Irish Catholic, are also excellent.

Using one token figure, played by Milton Lopes, the play beautifully conveys the spiritual bewilderment of the Native Australian encountering an alien invader. But what also comes over is the confusion of the European in a weird, inhospitable new world.

Some of the actors are disabled, so subtitles and sign language are integrated into the play. The latter adds a powerful physical dimension to what in any case would be a fine theatrical experience.

This is a Nottingham Playhouse production with an input from the Ramps on the Moon consortium.


Major Ross: Colin Connor.
John Wisehammer/Lieutenant Johnston: Tom Dawze.
Captain Campbell: Jarrad Ellis-Thomas.
Captain Collins: Dave Fishley.
Dabby Bryant: Fifi Garfield.
Caesar/Lieutenant Faddy: Keiren Hamilton-Amos.
Liz Morden: Gbemisola Ikumelo.
Governor Phillip: Kieron Jecchinis.
Mary Brenham: Sapphire Joy.
John Arscott/Captain Tench: Will Lewis.
Aboriginal Australian: Milton Lopes.
Robert Sideway/Reverend Johnson: Alex Nowak.
Meg Long/Lieutenant Daws: Caroline Parker.
Lieutenant Clark: Tim Pritchett.
Ketch: Fergus Rattigan.
Midshipman Brewer: Garry Robinson.
Duckling Smith: Emily Rose Salter.


Director: Fiona Buffini.
Designer: Neil Murray.
Lighting Designer: Mark Jonathan.
Composer/Sound Designer: Jon Nicholls.
 
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