Our Country's Good: A Review
Still basking in the applause from their last sell-out production of Journey’s End, Original Theatre Company, with a now increasingly acclaimed reputation in the world of theatre, returns to stages across the country with a brand new production. And with an Olivier Award winning play now in their hands, this latest production of Our Country’s Good, directed by Alastair Whatley, seemed set to be a clear recipe for success.
Based on a true story, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play tracks the story of a group of exiled convicts in New South Wales in the 1780s. Leading a life of misery, punishment and restriction, the experiences of these convicts are suddenly overturned when, at the request of benevolent colony governor Arthur Philips, the convicts are drawn together to act in their own production of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer. In this society of the immoral, the dispossessed and the alienated, (a society, some might say, not too dissimilar to our own), Wertenbaker champions the transformative and liberating powers of theatre alongside a probing exploration into the nature of the penal system and the politics of gender and race.
Yet for all its thought-provoking themes and interesting metatheatricality, sadly, for me, this was a production that simply did not work. With the few comedic moments attracting only a half-baked snigger and the tragic moments arousing virtually no audience sympathy, or at least not from me, I felt this was a production that lacked both a basic grounding of character and any fluidity of narrative. I found many scenes rather confusing and rushed, the clunky transitions between the twenty two scenes adding a further element of fragmentation. I also felt the sharing of roles amongst the ten-strong cast, in which the females often doubled in male roles, added nothing particularly interesting to the production but just furthered my inability to connect with any character. A note of praise, however, must go to these actresses, Emily Bowker, Jenny Ogilvie and Emma Gregory, whose dynamism of performance was in fact the strongest point of the show.
But overall, this production left me disappointed and lack-lustre, a sentiment I feel was shared by the already small audience of whom I saw a few depart in the interval. The fault of this production, however, cannot be entirely attributed to the cast, given that Our Country’s Good, to my mind, is a play that works well on paper but, I would imagine, is incredibly difficult to realise on stage. For here the play’s message just seems too contrived and pretentious, the big questions it raises and the poetic style it employs just too much for actors to handle sincerely and believably.
If you would like to make up your own mind, Our Country’s Good is on at Harrogate Theatre this Saturday 10th at 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Details of other performances across the country can be found here.