Our Country's Good digs into Australian history with mixed results
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.
Our Country's Good's look at the early history of Australia proves to be a mixed bag for the audience. The play has an absorbing concept and moments of brilliance, but those are tempered with sometimes sluggish scenes and a script that celebrates its cleverness at the expense of honest insight.
Out of Joint produced the original production of Timberlake Wertenbaker's play back in the 1980s, and it is a definite product of those turbulent political times. Things haven't changed that much, so a play about power, corruption, and art is still quite current.
The story takes place in Sydney in the late 1780s. Amid the hopelessness of the prisoners and jailers in the colony (not to mention the growing threat of starvation from a delayed supply ship), it is decided to put on a play. Young officer Ralph Clark (Nathan Ives-Moiba) takes up the mantle of directing, while a hodgepodge of prisoners take on various roles.
All the while, forces array against the production, including several of the other officers. Their motivation remains largely unclear throughout the play, which makes them more cartoonish villains than the well-rounded characters seen throughout the rest of the piece.
Our Country's Good does look marvelous, and the 10-actor company is committed to their various roles. All of them have turns as jailers and inmates, which underscores the sense that everyone is a prisoner in this new colony. Good turns are put in by Tom Andrews, who plays both the governor of the colony and a Jewish political prisoner; and Kathryn O'Reilly, as the angry, fiery, and sentenced-to-death Liz Morden.
There are moments, especially in the second act, where all of this finally takes over from the commentary in the background, and we get the real drama and life of existing and carving a new life on the edge of the world. Those are the moments that make Our Country's Good the most worthwhile for an audience.
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