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Our Country’s Good (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Our Country’s Good

Society: Tower Theatre Company

Venue: Tower Theatre. 16 Northwold Road, London N16 7HR

Credits: by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Directed by Peta Barker.

Our Country’s Good

4 stars

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s 1988 play is probably her best and it’s certainly my favourite because, of course, it’s a play about theatre and a huge clarion call for the redemptive power of the arts. So it’s always been topical and never more so than now.

Adapted from Thomas Keneally’s 1897 novel The Playmaker, the play takes us to the early days of the penal colony in New South Wales.  Everyone is there for the “good”  of the motherland – or  for “our country’s good”. The governor of NSW Captain Arthur Phillip (Georgia Koronka) wants to move away from the hanging and flogging culture. He is ridiculed by some of his die-hard staff for wanting to “civilise” the convicts through drama (sounds like the situation in many a 21st Century inner city comprehensive school). Eventually he gets Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Jonathan Wober – good) to direct a production of George Farquar’s The Recruiting Officer and as rehearsals progress and repeatedly stall we watch the change and development of his motley cast. Our Country’s Good is indeed a fine and powerful  play.

Peta Barker’s imaginative direction places all the cast on stage sitting around the edge of the playing space in the dark beneath an awning visibly managing their costume changes.. Thus they are, in every sense, a company of actors able to chorus the chapter/scene headings effectively. Their seating is a row of small crates which are brought on stage to suggest various things such as a rowing boat or chairs at a meeting.

I admired the role doubling and enjoyed a shared chuckle when the play itself comments that an actor playing more than one part would confuse the audience. Koronka is especially good as the governor, using gently heightened RP and presenting plenty of authority and then, in complete contrast,  as Wisehammer the intelligent, sensitive Jewish convict who wants to write plays.

Casting is cheerfully gender blind too. Rebecca Allan is totally convincing as Midshipman Harry Brewer, deeply in love with his live-in convict Duckling Smith (Georgina Carey who is also excellent as the sneering Captain Jeremy Campbell). Allan brings lots of pushiness and attitude to Dabby Bryant too. And we are all “ “paying attention” as the play instructs us that theatre goers should, so nobody is in the least confused.

This is a commendable production of a play which is warmly familiar. Most of the cast are strong and it has been made to sit very happily in the Tower’s triangular playing space. As ever I had to swallow a lump in my throat at the end. Let’s hope some of  those people – in government and elsewhere – wont to beliitle the power of the arts in education and elsewhere know the way to Stoke Newington.


 First published by Sardines:


Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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