Sunday, November 18, 2012

Our Country's Good Review

Our Country's Good
Tour - The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton

This is a play that I studied at college but I had yet to see a production. I was excited to see this because it is produced by the original director, Max Stafford Clark, and the company, Out of Joint.

The play follows the first convicts to be transported to Australia to set up a penal colony. The Governor, Arthur Philip (John Hollingworth), wants to civilise them by putting on the first play in Australia, The Recruiting Officer. Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark (Dominic Thorburn) is made the director of the production, but he struggles to work with the troublesome convicts, as well as coping with the menacing Major Ross (Claran Owens). During the play the audience learn about the convicts background whilst seeing the effects the play has upon them

Under Max Stafford Clark's direction is a stellar cast. Dominic Thorburn made for a scrupulous Ralph Clark and as the play progressed he and Laura Dos Santos, as the reserved convict Mary Brenham, made for a lovely couple. Joining the play-within-a-play is Robert Sideway (Matthew Needham) who provides the funniest moments during the rehearsal scenes as he acts with grandiose theatrical postures. Helen Bradbury was a haughty Dabby Bryant, and her rivalry with the demented Liz Morden (Kathryn O’Reilly) is impassioned.

I was looking forward to seeing how Max Stafford Clark approaches the sub-plot between Harry Brewer (Ian Redford) and Ducking Smith (Lisa Kerr) this time. Indeed, it was interesting to watch a complex relationship between an insecure old man and a younger woman. Yet the oppressive world the convicts find themselves in appears to be toned down in this production. The first whipping scene takes place off stage, thereby losing some of the full impact of the treatment of the convicts. Also Claran Owens could have been more threatening as Major Ross.

The timber that framed the stage nicely illustrated the beginnings of a civilization. The rest of the set was  simple, apart from the backdrops that were hung from some rigging above. A temporary curtain for example establishes the setting of the play by showing a faint outline of Australia. Otherwise I did feel it was unnecessary to have the cast calling out the titles of each scene, it just seemed out of place and slightly broke up the pace.

However with a strong cast, together with the redemptive story of Our Country's Good, this is a great production that is worth seeing at a low Top Price

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