OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD
by Timberlake Wertenbaker.
Olivier Theatre Upper Ground South Bank SE1 9PX In rep to 17 October 2015.
2pm 15, 22 Sept, 1. 3, 7, 10, 13, 17 Oct.
7.30pm 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 28 Sept-3, 5-10, 12-17 Oct.
Audio-described 2 Oct, 3 Oct 2pm (+ Touch Tour).
Captioned 22 Sept 7.30pm.
Runs: 2hr 50min One interval.
TICKETS 020 7452 3000.
Review: Carole Woddis 5 September.
Historical yet pertinent play in largely successful epic revival.
There’s barely a year goes by it seems when Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Our Country’s Good doesn’t get revived. Regarded as a modern classic, it’s regularly listed on the school curriculum. Despite its original modest staging by Max Stafford-Clark, the play sits perfectly respectably in the vast receptacle that is the Olivier open stage.
At times, Nadia Fall’s production does however fall prey to epic-ism. The demands of the Olivier and the sparseness of Wertenbaker’s writing sometimes means Fall has to be over-expansive in terms of revolves and textures and though Cerys Matthews’ eclectic, folk-based music certainly doesn’t jar nor Gary Wood’s athletic aborigine, there is a sense of material sometimes being stretched too far.
And yet and yet. There’s no doubt the play based on the Thomas Keneally novel, The Playmaker, with its account of British convicts in Sydney performing George Farquhar’s comedy The Recruiting Officer still has the power to unnerve and move.
Wertenbaker and Stafford Clark took the tale of brutality and injustice (the convicts so often the victims of ridiculously petty crimes at home) to push home a message of the redemptive qualities of Art and theatre in particular – with some nice jokes, too at its own expense – that resonates to this day with our broken prison system.
There are few more melting moments than the abused and violent Lizzie Morden’s acquiescing to speak in her own defence after having been wrongly accused; or John Wisehammer, the Jewish wordsmith’s eloquent epilogue of forced exile `for our country’s good’.
Matthew Cottle endows Wisehammer with a sweet humility and Jason Hughes conveys both struggle and enthusiasm in his gentle portrait of Ralph Clark, the naval officer rehearsing a ragbag outfit.
Whilst graphically emphasising the harshness of the treatment meted out, Fall doesn’t always manage to make the play’s important philosophical arguments about punishment versus rehabilitation as sharp and defined as they could be. Yet miraculously, by the end, the play, its themes and the Olivier all combine to make the finale a terrific endorsement of collective endeavour, be it in relation to theatre or in society generally.
Captain Arthur Phillip: Cyril Nri.
Major Robbie Ross: Peter Forbes.
Captain David Collins: Jonathan Coote.
Captain Watkin Tench: Jonathan Livingstone.
Captain Jeremy Campbell: David Mara.
Reverend Johnson: Jonathan Dryden Taylor.
Lieutenant Will Dawes: Graeme McKnight.
Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark: Jason Hughes.
Second Lieutenant William Faddy: Matthew Cottle.
Midshipman Harry Brewer: Paul Kaye.
The Aborigine: Gary Wood.
Eleanor McCabe: Josienne Clarke.
John Wisehammer: Matthew Cottle.
John Arscott: Jonathan Dryden Taylor.
Mary Brenham: Caoilfhionn Dunne.
Sarah Bellamy: Ellie James.
Duckling Smith: Shalisha James-Davis.
Caesar: Jonathan Livingstone.
Dabby Bryant: Ashley McGuire.
Liz Morden: Jodie McNee.
Ketch Freeman: Tadhg Murphy.
Meg Long: Debra Penny.
Robert Sideway: Lee Ross.
Director: Nadia Fall.
Designer: Peter McKintosh.
Lighting: Neil Austin.
Sound: Carolyn Downing.
Music: Cerys Matthews.
Music Director: Kevin Amos.
Choreographer: Arthur Pita.
Company Voice work: Jeannette Nelson.
Dialect coach: Richard Ryder.
Fight director: Kate Waters.
First performance of tthis production in the Olivier, National Theatre London, 26 August 2015.