Our Country’s Good (2012)

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Timberlake Wertenbaker

Our Country’s Good (2012)

Australia. 1788. A British ship arrives with a cargo of soldiers and convicts transported abroad for their country’s good. As the soldiers struggle to impose order on the outcasts of the old society, a benevolent governor seizes on the notion of a play. In the shadow of the gallows and the gum tree the convicts gather under the direction of 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clarke and rehearsals begin for The Recruiting Officer. Based on real events, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Olivier Award-winning modern classic is an inspiring tale of the transforming power of theatre.

The Details

Show, venue, reviews, cast and production details

“A play is a world in itself. A tiny colony we could say. And you are in charge of it. That is a great responsibility.”

Australia. 1788. A British ship arrives with a cargo of soldiers and convicts transported abroad for their country’s good. As the soldiers struggle to impose order on the outcasts of the old society, a benevolent governor seizes on the notion of a play. In the shadow of the gallows and the gum tree the convicts gather under the direction of 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Clarke and rehearsals begin for The Recruiting Officer.

Based on real events, Timberlake Wertenbaker’s Olivier Award-winning modern classic is an inspiring tale of the transforming power of theatre.
This production marked it’s first major touring revival.

Key Theatre, Peterborough

Rose Theatre, Kingston

Devonshire Park, Eastbourne

Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke

South Hill Park, Bracknell

The Maltings, Berwick-Upon-Tweed

Theatr Clywd, Mold

The Theatre, Chipping Norton

The Hexagon, Reading

Arts Depot, Finchley

Greenwich Theatre, Greenwich

Whether this piece is seen as an historical tale of convicts in Australia, or a poignant question about the value of prisoner rehabilitation, it is certainly a superb production with passion, emotion and a lot of folk singing.”

★★★★

Paul Lucas-Scott, What’s on Stage


“It opens with a shipboard flogging and a sad ballad of exile fading into the ancient drone of the didgeridoo. Innocently majestic, Seun Shote steps forward as an aboriginal Australian, gazing at the First Fleet of 1788 with its convicts and soldiers. “Is it a dream that has lost its way?” Maybe. It was a brutal thing, this deportation of thousands for trifling thefts, some of them pitifully young or old, some girls who were sold into prostitution in childhood. Those who survived fever, flogging or hanging were to be colonists. A new nation.

Timberlake Wertenbaker’s marvellous, passionate play won an Olivier in 1988 at the Royal Court and here gets a full-blooded revival under Alastair Whatley. Imaginative re-creation of history frames a timeless affirmation of the power of dramatic art: of the self-transcending relief of sharing well-patterned words, identities and ideas. The governor frets about the narrow degradation of the convicts, and wishes they had some culture; a 2nd Lieutenant (played with vulnerable seriousness by Christopher Harper) offers to direct Vanbrugh’s The Recruiting Officer.

The debate among the militia splendidly reflects many modern rows about drama in prisons: some scoff at the waste of time, the apparent indulgence, the danger to discipline, while the Governor champions the usefulness of “refined literate language, well-balanced lines, expressing sentiments they are not used to”. Ten actors play 22 parts, doubling and trebling: Adam Best’s brutal Major becomes a tormented hangman, Jenny Ogilvie’s prissy Captain his convict whore. Rachel Donovan’s three parts include a wonderful Dabby, the homesick mouthy Devon girl, and Emma Gregory, as the roughest of the lot, rises to extraordinary dignity in the shadow of the gallows.

The cruelty pulls no punches, but there are moments of great comedy in the quarrelsome rehearsals (especially Jack Lord’s impersonations of how a self-absorbed pickpocket reckons Garrick would do it.) The great cavernous space of this theatre, set only with sacks, poles and boxes as befits a wilderness camp, conveys the isolation and loneliness of “this foreign, upside-down desert”. If there is a disadvantage it is that more intimate scenes feel drowned, almost inaudible. But its power remains strong. As the Aborigine says, peering at the colonists, they are for us all “a swarm of ancestors, come through unmended cracks in the sky” .”

★★★★

Libby Purves, The Times


“It’s a rich and heady brew, utterly enthralling. The play is fully deserving of its status as a modern classic…”

“The company is led by Aden Gillet as the Governor and a fussing, Peter Quince-style participant, and Phillip Whitchurch as a blustery captain, sweaty midshipman and troubled prisoner. The doubling is part of the play, which makes fun of the convention while allowing performers like Emily Bowker’s immensely touching Brenham (cast as Farquhar’s cross-dressing Silvia) and Emma Gregory’s sullen convict to find redeeming grace in their role playing.

Notable contributions, too, from Jenny Ogilvie, Christopher Harper and Seun Shote as a painted Aboriginal ensure that the parameters of the play as a theatrical exercise are imbued with character and meaning that illuminates the human condition in these curious and barbaric circumstances.”

★★★★

Michael Coveney, What’s on Stage


“One of the most fascinating plays I have ever seen is playing at Devonshire Park Theatre, Eastbourne this week.

For anyone who loves history and good drama this is definitely a play to see.”

Amanda Wilkins, Sussex Express


“Here drama and comedy are at their best.”

”The play offers drama of high quality with performances to match.”

Barrie Jerram, The Argus


“Outstanding…and a little bit fruity”


“This productions clarity comes from the superb performance of every single cast member. This is not a Disney story – there are no ‘good’ character or ‘bad’ ones, but each is a realistic mixture of human grey.”

Jersey Evening Post


“Our Country’s Good and so is this play!”

Will Fitzgibbon, Australian Times


“Victoria Spearing’s beautiful yet simple drift wood set, combined with fantastic acting means you can feel the Australian heat”

“It is refreshing to see a cast without a weak link, and their portrayal of all the characters is credible and well judged. A particular highlight is the truly terrifying Emma Gregory when playing Liz Morden”

“In Our Country’s Good, the Governor in Chief states that for a few hours of the colony camp play, “We will laugh, we may be moved, we may even think a little’. The Original Theatre Company’s performance will do just that.”

Callie Swarbrick, The British Theatre Guide


“How brilliant it was to watch the case of this superb adaptation, produce by the Original Theatre Company in association with Anvil Arts, bring Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play to life on the stage of The Haymarket.”

Joanne Mace, Basingstoke Gazette


“It is probably not an easy drama to produce given that it has twenty-two roles and, in this performance, only ten actors. However, The Original Theatre’s production shows the actors’ skill as they seamlessly move from one character to another, doubling, and in the case of Philip Whitchurch and Rachel Donovan even trebling. Never once do we doubt or question their dramatic authenticity as they rapidly and emotionally switch roles.”

David Stockton, Remote Goat


Governor Philip / Wisehammer: Aden Gillett

Ralphe Clarke: Chris Harper

Mary / Reverend Johnson: Emily Bowker

Capt. Collins / Sideway: Jack Lord

Dabby / Lieutenant Faddy / Meg: Rachel Donovan

Harry Brewer / Arscott / Capt. Campbell: Phillip Whitchurch

Major Ross / Ketch: Adam Best

Aborigine / Caeser / Johnston: Seun Shote

Duckling / Capt. Tench: Jenny Ogilvie

Liz Morden / Lieutenant Dawes: Emma Gregory

Production Team

Directed by: Alastair Whatley

Assistant Director: Craig Gilbert

Set Design: Victoria Spearing

Costume Design: Ed Holland

Casting: Kay Magson

Production shots: Jack Ladenburg

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Rehearsal Photos

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