Our Country’s Good
Admin | 25 Oct 2018 12:29pm
Photo: Sedos Photos
I think this production of Our Country’s Good is the best non-professional ‘straight’ play (musicals are a different animal) I have ever seen. Of course that’s partly down to the strength of Wertenbaker’s timeless, topical, funny, poignant, horrifying text. But it’s also a huge credit to the talented Sedos cast and their director, Chloe Robertson.
Just for those who don’t know this now ‘classic’ 1988 play (and most of the audience seated near me did not) we’re in 18th Century New South Wales where a group of convicts has just arrived from London after a brutal seven months at sea. In the penal colony the governor, going against the strident, stringent views of most of his officers, decides that it would be a humanising experience for the inmates to stage a play: Thomas Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. It is loosely based on real events as depicted in Thomas Keneally’s 1987 novel The Playmaker.
Everyone in the cast is strong – it’s a play offering some terrific character roles – and there’s a lot of adept doubling to make sure that there are plenty of officers for the scenes where plenty of red coats are in order. Of especial note are Jessica Withey who brings coarse anger, despair and recalcitrance along with pitiful vulnerability and eventually a shred of hope to the complex Liz Morden ‘the most difficult woman in the colony’ and Josh Yard as the earnest, enthusiastic excessive but flawed pickpocket, Robert Sideway. Both actors in different ways invoke a kind of awed sympathy in the audience.
Also admirable are Sophia Papadopoulos whose gentle Mary Brennan grows in confidence and competence as we watch and Sam Pearce as the mild, humane, troubled, yearning, persistent Ralph Clarke who directs The Recruiting Officer. John Irvine, cast as the ruthless Ross who wants ‘discipline’ and has no truck with drama, is good value as is Jamila Jennings Grant who is living in a quasi married relationship with deeply traumatised Midshipman Harry Brewer (Matt Tylianakis – lovely performance) until it is all snatched from her.
It’s played in this production on a very simple shallow wooden dais surrounded by sand to connote the Botany Bay coastline. Most of the basic props are pieces of furniture are carried on and off by cast members who also change costumes on stage. It all feels like refreshingly honest, truthful theatre. And there’s a very effective sound track (by Ricky Damiani) which uses violin and guitar to play folksy music appropriate to the period and atmospherically, the sound of breakers on the beach and birds calling.
There’s a lot of brutality in this play. We’re in a world in which flogging and hanging are routine. It examines the nature of crime and punishment, But, as ever, I love the way Wertenbaker gently pokes fun at the artifice of theatre itself and the line about people who can’t concentrate shouldn’t go the theatre makes me laugh every time. So does the Opera House reference. And this cast makes sure we notice and respond.
Our Country’s Good is, of course, an optimistic play about the transformational power of the arts and in its 30th anniversary we probably need to be reminded of that more than ever. People like Ross who believe that “theatre leads to threatening theory” are still vociferously and ubuitously with us.
Our Country’s Good runs until Saturday 27th. Warmly recommended.
Photo: Sedos Photos