Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good concerns a group of English convicts and their hated naval gaolers sent to the 'new colony' of Australia in the late 1780s. It follows Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark's attempt to put on a production of George Farquhar's Restoration comedy The Recruiting Officer with his motley crew of captives or as Major Robbie Ross RM calls them 'vice-ridden vermin'. It's a noble endeavour that meets resistance from Ross (Adam Best) who holds the view that the theatre 'teaches subordination, disobedience, and revolution' and that it is absurd to think otherwise.
However, the intellectual and perceptive Governor, Captain Arthur Philip (Aden Gillet), maintains that the convicts are there to 'create a new society'. Their involvement in theatre would act as a humanising force and offer hope of redemption in a barbaric world. He further claims that theatre is an 'expression of civilisation'.
Nevertheless, even in this cruel world there is humour. For instance the rehearsal scene that ends Act 1. The convicts display a range of misconceptions about acting and despite their apparent sincerity results in some of the best comedy, especially Jack Lord as Robert Sideway who steals the scene. His display of grandiose theatrical affectation, attributed to having once seen David Garrick, lifts the spirit and lets the humanity shine through. You begin to see these convicts as worthy of opportunity.
It is probably not an easy drama to produce given that it has twenty-two roles and, in this performance, only ten actors. However, The Original Theatre's production shows the actors' skill as they seamlessly move from one character to another, doubling, and in the case of Philip Whitchurch and Rachel Donovan even trebling. Never once do we doubt or question their dramatic authenticity as they rapidly and emotionally switch roles.
On a simplistic level, we have a play debating intellectual arguments for and against theatre but more importantly, we have a play that questions human frailties and cruelties. This satisfying and entertaining performance does not aim to answer all the questions but gives the audience enough evidence to make their own conclusions.
On tour until 26th April 2012. For further details see The Original Theatre Company website.