Wertenbaker’s 1988 modern classic, Our Country’s Good, is one of my favourite plays and this Max Stafford Clarke’ revival delivered everything I wanted. It was moving, it was funny, it was passionate and it was atmospheric.
The play is based on Thomas Keneally’s novel ‘The Playmaker’ and centres on the first convicts shipped to Australia in 1798 and the subsequent attempt to stage Farquhar’s ‘The Recruiting Officer’. The company each take two or more roles excepting Dominic Thorburn, who plays Second Lieutenant Ralph Clarke, the young idealistic officer who is tasked with producing the play. Ciaran Owens gave us a brilliantly sadistic Major Ross coupled with a vulnerable, reluctant hangman in Ketch Freeman who was not only deeply likeable but set a few hearts fluttering judging by the teenage sighs that emanated from the audience whenever he looked particularly forlorn and alone. I really enjoyed Matthew Freedman as the exuberant Sideways and the erudite Captain Collins , and loved Kathryn O’Reilly as a powerful Liz Morden she maintained an extraordinary stillness that was compelling to watch. I could actually name the entire company here as there was not a weak link nor a weak characterisation, it was a masterclass in ensemble theatre.
The structure of the piece is episodic with many short scenes, this creates the challenge of keeping up the pace and the flow of the piece, but the scenes flowed in and out nicely helped by simple staging and costuming. Some of the scenes stood out as being of particular note, Duckling Smith’s (Lisa Kerr) emotional speech over Harry Brewer’s (Ian Redford) dying moments was incredibly moving and Ross’s sadistic treatment of the prisoners which they then attempt to deflect by their determined and deliberate rehearsal was powerfully done and very affecting.
This play is an A-level set text and – for me – one of the highlights of the evening was the overwhelmingly positive response from the young A-level students in the audience, I believe ‘roars of approval’ would be the appropriate cliché to use here. This is a terrific play with a terrific cast and I wish it well for the rest of the tour.