OUR COUNTRY’S GOOD
by Timberlake Wertenbaker based on The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally.
Out of Joint and Octagon Theatre Bolton Tour to 24 November.
Then St James Theatre London 30 January-9 March 2013.
Until 22 September 2012 reviewed by SadiaHabib
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.
Review: Sadia Habib 4 September.
Convicts, convictions and transformative theatre.
Max Stafford-Clark has directed a play which is simultaneously brutal and humane. Those in authority and in captivity attempt to create a new life together in Australia, under the rule of benign and benevolent Captain Arthur Phillips (John Hollingworth). Yet some in charge predict doom and destruction due to the leniency of Captain Arthur Phillips, in this penal colony.
There is brutality. There is humanity. Some encounter lashes, others encounter love. We wince and we cower, just like the convicts. We hope and we anticipate, just like the convicts. We feel the pain of the whip, and we feel sickened when we see the welts on the convicts’ bodies. We dream with the homesick convicts when they hark back to the green fields of England. We take relief in that there are kind and liberal governors such as Captain Phillips. We urge on those who philosophise about the transformative powers of theatre in the intense and heated debate that takes place about whether or not the convicts can put on a play.
Most of all, as theatre-goers, we delight in Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark’s (Dominic Thorburn) vision and directing of a play acted by the convicts. Thorburn superbly demonstrates how authority can learn to empathise with and inspire the downtrodden, dignity-stripped and desperate souls. He’s contrasted neatly and necessarily with a different view of authority – a callous and cruel Major Robbie Ross (Ciaran Owens), who has the convicts (and audience) shuddering when he speaks.
As the rehearsals for the convicts’ play take place, we learn of what makes these desperate humans fearful and hopeful, about their idiosyncrasies and nostalgias, sorrows and anguish as they begin new lives as convicts in Australia, interspersed with themes of justice, culture and criminality debated by those who rule over them, illuminating the socio-historical context of the establishing of penal colonies.
Stafford-Clark’s production though hard-hitting is very humorous. Sideway (Matthew Needham) has us in stitches in his enthusiasm as he embraces his role in the play. Those moments of laughter and hilarity are much needed to bring balance to a play that is also grave.
Aboriginal Australian/Captain WatkinTench/Black Caesa: DamolaAdelaja.
Second Lieutenant William Faddy/Dabby Bryant: Helen Bradbury.
Reverend Johnson/Mary Brenham: Laura Dos Santos.
Captain Arthur Phillip/John Wisehammer: John Hollingworth.
Lieutenant George Johnston/Ducking Smith: Lisa Kerr.
Captain David Collins/Robert Sideway: Matthew Needham.
Lieutenant Will Dawes/Liz Morden: Kathryn O’Reilly.
Major Robbie Ross/Ketch Freeman: Ciaran Owens.
Captain Jemmy Campbell/Midshipman Harry Brewer/John Arscott/Meg Long: Ian Redford.
Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark: Dominic Thorburn.
Director: Max Stafford-Clark.
Designer: Tim Shortfall.
Lighting: Johanna Town.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Assistant director: Des Kennedy.
3-22 Sept Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 11 Sept 1.30pm, 15, 19 Sept 2pm Audio-described 13 Sept Octagon Theatre Bolton 01204 520661` www.octagonbolton.co.uk
25-29 Sept Tue-Wed 7pm; Thu-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Old Rep Theatre Birmingham 0121 236 4455 www.birmingham-rep.co.uk
2-6 Oct 7.30pm Aberystwyth Arts Centre 01970 623232 www.aberystwythartscentre.co.uk
9-13 Oct 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2pm Everyman Theatre Cheltenham 01242 572573 www.everymantheatre.org.uk
16-20 Oct 7.30pm Mat Sat 3pm Nuffield Theatre Southampton 023 8067 1771 www.nuffieldtheatre.co.uk
23-27 Oct Tue-Thu; Sat 7.30pm Fri 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Audio-described Sat 2.30pm Captioned Thu 2.30pm Oxford Playhouse 01865 305305 www.oxfordplayhouse.com
6-10 Nov 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm Watford Palace 01923 225671 www.watfordpalacetheatre.co.uk
14-24 Nov Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu 1.30pm Sat 2pm Audio-described 21 Nov BSL Signed 20 Nov Captioned 22 Nov 7.30pm West Yorkshire Playhouse (Courtyard Theatre) Leeds 0113 213 7700 www.wyp.org.uk
30 Jan-9 March Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm St James Theatre London 0844 264 2140 www.stjamestheatre.co.uk