Described by National Theatre Artistic Director Rufus Norris as a "redemptive love song to theatre", Our Country's Good follows the first convict ship to arrive in Australia as the outcasts come together to perform a play.
First performed over 25 years ago at the Royal Court Theatre, Our Country's Good charmed audiences and critics. The show has since played on the West End and Broadway and been nominated for 5 Tony Awards in 1991 and won the Olivier Award for Play of the Year in 1988.
Though it has only been two years since the play was last on the London stage, this National Theatre revival managed to feel fresh and timely as director Nadia Fell celebrates both the humanity and complexity of the story in a rich, uplifting production that embodies the themes of theatre's value.
Prison Theatre: Our Country's Good summary
Timberlake Wertenbaker’s inspiration for the play was Thomas Keneally’s novel, The Playmaker, set in Sydney Cove, the most remote penal colony of the British Empire in 1788. Wertenbaker based the names of characters on the actual passengers who sailed to Australia on the First Fleet, and was given access to their 18th century journals to root her presentation of this history of convicts in truth.
Our Country's Good revival
Peter McKintosh's spectacular set rises up, creating multiple levels on the Olivier stage to capture both the vast vistas of Australia and the entrapment of a transportation ship.The sex, violence and homesickness of the new colony are confronted with unflinching honesty, without veering into exaggeration.
Cerys Matthews' new score mingles traditional folk, blues, jazz and indigenous Australian music, spanning continents and eras. The effect is mixed and though the concept of a score that illustrates a sense of relocating and cultures coming together sounds better on paper. At moments the music elevated the drama, but, at other points it competed with the narrative and distracted.
The momentum comes from the quality of the performances. There's no weak link in the large cast and each character feels three-dimensional.
The prison officers' debates about reformation, culture and human rights are weighty stuff, but are made engaging and lively. And, as Captain Arthur Phillip (Cyril Nri) insists that this new society can only thrive if fear and tyranny are replaced by truth and respect, there is a piercing relevance. Timberlake Wertenbaker's script is an eloquent and deft defence of theatre's value and, in a climate of increasing arts cuts, it's revelatory and pertinent on the National Theatre stage.
But the success of this revival is the well-paced comedy, violence and pathos that punctuate the moral message. As ambitious and earnest Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, played with charm by Jason Hughes, directs a motley crew of convicts in a George Farquhar comedy, the meta-theatrical jokes raise plenty of knowing chuckles. While the brutal treatment of the prisoners is flinch-making and the wretched backstories are tear-jerking, ultimately Our Country's Good is an uplifting, powerful play about the power of a play.
|What||Our Country's Good, National Theatre|
|Where||National Theatre, South Bank, London, SE1 9PX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
19 Aug 15 – 17 Oct 15, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Price||£5 - £35|
|Website||Click here to book via the National Theatre|