‘We left our country for Our Country’s Good!’
Based on a true story of a group of British officers and convicted criminals who were transported to the Australian colony, Our Country’s Good primarily explores a universal question surrounding the argument of nature vs. nurture. Can one change the life they have been assigned? Are criminals born or made and can they find redemption? In light of this, the retired Admiral Arthur Philips allows Lieutenant Ralph Clark to put on a production of George Farquhar’s The Recruiting Officer, starring the convicted. He hoped that the theatre might prove redemptive, life changing and breed good behaviour.
I was excited with this plot prioritisation. My favourite plays are those that spark conversations around socio-political issues. However, I found it slow – I failed to grasp the comical elements. I felt that the comedy wasn’t dark or poignant enough to get the dramatic points across. Additionally, the moments that were full of brutality and sorrow failed to evoke my sympathy. This might just be a personal preference – everything from the casting, acting, staging, set design, etc. was great and yet I was left wanting more – this might simply be because I like my theatre full steam ahead, with its comedy and drama at 100% throughout.
Yet, I thought the production was brilliant in terms of its inclusiveness and the politics surrounding speech: who has the right to speak, who is heard, who is listened to and who is silenced, all of which are key to Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play. Directed by Fiona Buffini, this production with the inclusion of a cast of deaf, disabled and non-disabled actors made a glaringly obvious statement that it is time to change the way in which we think about those who are underrepresented.
The pairing of this cast with this key component of communication was cleverly woven in: there were actors who embodied characters physically whilst others supplied the speech. Additionally, the use of British Sign Language became a class boundary marker within the play: it became the language of the underworld, the world of the convicts – distinguishing them further as ‘other’ from the officers. Consequently, it became a form of solidarity between them as they were able to share information amongst themselves and eavesdrop on their oppressors’. This was extremely impressive as it combined the hurdles the convicts had to face to give a successful performance, similar hurdles that these actors must have faced for this production. I thought this transformed the play from one of tragedy and comedy to one of inspiration – of those escaping the invisible chains that bind them and of defying expectations. Additionally, the set design, music and lighting were equally impressive and added to the sense of defiance – of defying the limitations and expectations of the stage.
This play will provoke you to think about the larger philosophical arguments and will inspire you to want to set about change.
Thanks for reading 🙂