It’s been a little while since I’ve managed to get to the theatre, I’ve been working a little more in deepest, darkest Norfolk and the opportunities have eluded me.
An overnight in London, and a quick web search reminded me I still hadn’t managed to make it to see Our Country’s Good. I did have a ticket to a preview performance at the end of the summer but missed it due to illness.‘Our Country’s Good’ had some big pluses for me, I had read Cerys Matthews was making her theatre debut- as composer for the play, for too many reasons I love Cerys Matthews, and having been in the audience at ‘Hook, Line & Carol Singing’ a couple of years ago, and falling under the spell of her knowledge and love of music, I was really keen to see this unfold as part of this play. Secondly, Jason Hughes playing Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, aside from This Life, having seen him earlier in the year in Violence & Son, I was looking forward to seeing him again.
The play, written by Timberlake Wertenbaker, and based on The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally, focuses on the arrival of the first convict ship from England to Botany Bay in 1788. The play takes in the central idea of the time, of maintaining some form of civilisation, ‘in spite’ of the outcasts in this new, alien land.
The set design, by Peter McKintosh, was breathtaking, perhaps the benefit of seeing plays at the National is no doubt a bigger budget than other regional theatres, but that is the joy. The vivid landscape of faraway lands, the revolve of the stage appearing, creating a vast ship, and then offering a raked stage which allowed the divide of hierarchy to emerge, the Aborigine being given the view of the action which takes place, attempting at times to bridge a divide, to form communication, to offer warning.
Hughes in the role of an ambitious Second Lieutenant, takes hold of the action as he presents the idea that a play can unite, creating a common goal, and as this happens so behaviours and preconceptions are challenged. A pivotal focus of the play is the idea that the Second Lieutenant has his eye, and heart, turned by Mary Brenham, the challenge of being attracted to a convict, against all that his plans had in store.
Some of the characterisations were uncomfortable, possibly serving their purpose, albeit some just seemed a little too stereotyped, both on the side of the convicts and the hierarchy. In saying that Jodie McNee was Liz Morden was absolutely outstanding, I really didn’t like her- hopefully the intent- but as the play progressed every empathy stood with her as the strength of her character became the morality of the play.
The goal of this piece of theatre was achieved, the glimmer of hope which can overpower the greatest injustice, there was humour in the irony of the value of theatre, yet proving- as promised- the redemptive power of art.
I did enjoy the play, I questioned myself, but found the presence of Gary Wood as the Aborigine and Josienne Clarke as Eleanor McCabe to bear witness to event a comfort. The presence of humility in a new world of behaviours and action which can unfold without rule or regulation. And concluding that yes, the existence of good can grow, regardless.
The performance is approximately 2hrs 50mins in duration, including one interval.
Our Country’s Good is at the National Theatre until 17th October with tickets available on the website.