Our Country’s Good

‘Our Country’s Good’ is a challenging play: set in the 1780s it features the first group of convicts who have been transported to Australia for various small crimes (as you know, Australia was a penal colony for many years). There is a debate among the officers responsible for guarding them as to whether they should be punished or redeemed. One young officer suggests that it would be a good idea to get the convicts to rehearse and perform a play – George Farquhar’s ‘The Recruiting Officer’ – and this is the central motif that carries the action forward, and which allows Timberlake Wertenbaker to explore themes such as crime and punishment, redemption, nature or nurture, love and hate, and ultimately the astonishing endurance of the human spirit.

Above all else, ‘Our Country’s Good’ asks us to consider the transcendental power of art, and so it was entirely appropriate that Director Jo Brayton transformed the CLT into a barren stretch of antipodean shoreline. It was a stunning set, and her decision to play it in the round shattered the fourth wall, placed the audience right at the heart of the action and ensured that for the cast there was literally no hiding place from the uncomfortable truths they were forced to confront . There were strong performances from Baxter Westby as 2nd Lt Ralph Clark, our idealistic impresario, and Josh Hogan as the fever-wracked Midshipman Brewer. Freddie Gilmore was all Caledonian menace as Major Robbie Ross, his demand for harsh penalties sympathetically counterpointed by the excellent Izzy Melville as Judge David Collins. Evie Campbell and Stella Lindfors were convincing convicts, and Honor Bridgman’s nuanced performance as Mary Brenham teased out many of the play’s subtler themes. Ben Wigram’s empathetic Governor Philip was frequently confronted by the bombastic Captain Tench, effortlessly portrayed by Caitlin Strachan, while the role of Liz Morden, the most honest yet provocative of all the prisoners, was brilliantly explored by Honor Woollett.

‘Our Country’s Good’ is a difficult play that makes significant demands on its cast. This production will live long in the memory, not just for the excellence and ambition of all the actors who worked so hard to bring it to production, but also for the way it reclaimed the Christopher Lee as a proper venue for serious theatre. It was indeed a transformative work of creative genius, so many congratulations to all who made it happen.

Tim Head

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