Deep layers built into Out of Joint's Our Country's Good

Kathryn O'Reilly, Anna Tierney, Victoria Gee, Tom Andrews, Jessica Tomchak, and Sam Graham in Out of Joint and Octagon Theatre Bolton's production of Our Country's Good
Kathryn O'Reilly, Anna Tierney, Victoria Gee, Tom Andrews, Jessica Tomchak, and Sam Graham in Out of Joint and Octagon Theatre Bolton's production of Our Country's Good
Photo by Robert Workman.

Back in 2005, England's Out of Joint brought an intriguing production of Macbeth to the then Guthrie Lab, featuring an immersive set that saw the audience move from scene to scene (such as huddling around the table for the famous dinner scene) and a setting inspired by modern African politics.

The company, teaming up with Octagon Theatre Bolton, returns to town with Our Country's Good, presented as part of the Guthrie Theater's World Stage series. Director Max Stafford-Clark chatted via email about the 25th anniversary production of Timberlake Wertenbaker Olivier-Award-winning piece about convicts putting on a play in 18th-century Australia.
City Pages: How does this production differ from the one in 1988? How has theater and the world changed in that time?

Max Stafford-Clark: Alas, not much. In 1988, Mrs. Thatcher's determination to roll back the welfare state threatened all cultural institutions. However, in 2014 [Prime Minister] David Cameron and [Chancellor of the Exchequer] George Osborne have contrived to inflict more damage on the infrastructure and ecology of theater in three years than Mrs. Thatcher managed in three terms. A play that champions the power of theater is unfortunately as pertinent now as it was then.

The play centers on putting on a play. How do you balance the actors as characters, and the actors as characters playing a second layer of characters?

The first question to answer is: are the prisoners good actors? A director's job is always to bring the best out of his actors. However, on this occasion, the actors may have to act 'not very good.' It's a problem the production has to address. On the other hand, 10 actors playing 24 parts is a situation that economics has determined for some time now. It's a problem we are accustomed to.

Plenty of people still remember the Out of Joint Macbeth that played here in 2005. Is their a similar aesthetic here? Is that kind of integrated stage craft, with the audience and the actors often sharing the same space, part of Out of Joint's mission?

Out of Joint's mission is now as it was then: to commission and produce new work that comments on and plays a part in the debate about how we live. Setting Macbeth in war-torn Africa was politically pertinent, and the staging emphasized its engagement with the audience. Our Country's Good doesn't use the same devises, but nonetheless engages with and embraces the audience in its own particular way.

The play is tied closely to British and Australian history. How do the events, and the message, translate to an American audience?

The play's central themes; redemption, justice, the possibilities and power of theater are as relevant in America as they are in Europe. Ironically, New South Wales was chosen as a convict colony because Britain had lost the War of Independence and was no longer able to ship convicts to Virginia. The colonial history of both countries, Australia and America, is the starting point for this play.


Our Country's Good
In previews Wednesday and Thursday, opens Friday
Through June 29
Guthrie Theater
818 S. Second. St., Minneapolis
Fort tickets and more information, call 612.377.2224 or visit online.
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Guthrie Theater

818 S. 2nd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55415


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