Written by Timberlake Wertenbaker
Directed by Karen Vickery
Canberra REP production
Canberra REP Theatre, Acton to 24 September.
Reviewed by Len Power 9 September 2022
As a celebration of Canberra REP’s 90th birthday, the choice of “Our Country’s Good”, a play set in Australia in 1789 in the just founded NSW penal colony is an apt choice. Based on Thomas Keneally’s novel, “The Playmaker”, and first performed in London in 1989, the play takes the true story of the production of the first play ever to be staged in the colony as its basis.
Directing the restoration comedy, “The Recruiting Officer”, 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clark has only two copies of the text, a cast of convicts, and one leading lady about to be hanged. As rehearsals proceed, the redemptive power of theatre gives the participants a sense of community, a greater understanding of others and an opportunity for personal growth. In spite of its tough, primitive setting and uncertain futures of its characters, “Our Country’s Good” is a celebration of theatre itself.
The play, with its many characters, requires most of the ensemble cast to play multiple roles. In this production, the different characters are indicated by costume and vocal changes.
The action takes place mainly in various locations in and around the penal colony as well as initially on board the ship bound for Australia. An abstract set design by Michael Sparks allows for swift changes between scenes. Video projections give a brief description prior to each scene.
There are fine characterisations by Alexandra Pelvin as Liz Morden, the convict under threat of hanging, Meaghan Stewart as the young, bitter prostitute Duckling Smith and Kate Blackhurst as Dabby Bryant, who dreams of returning to Devon. Paul Sweeney captures the twisted emotions of the jealous Midshipman Harry Brewer very well but overdoes the level of shouting the role requires.
The abstract set is also problematic as it does not give a clear understanding of the locations of the various scenes.
One of the characters in the play says “People with a lack of imagination should not attend the theatre”. A vivid imagination appears to be needed to fully understand and appreciate this production.
Photos by Helen Drum
This review was first published in the Canberra CityNews digital edition of 10 September 2022.
Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.