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Our Country’s Good, Watford Palace Theatre

everything theatre originally reviewed this production at the Watford Palace Theatre. It will return to London from 30th January – 9th March 2013 at the St James Theatre: http://www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/our-countrys-good/

Timberlake Wertenbaker
Directed by Max Stafford-Clark
★★★★

Pros: Great ensemble production with a fabulous cast, and a message that remains incredibly important.

Cons: Parts of the script remain tricky in places.

Our Verdict: A very good production with an excellent cast that will make you feel good about the very fact you’re in a theatre watching it!

Courtesy of Robert Workman for The Telegraph

This Out-of-Joint production is Max Stafford-Clark’s third stab at directing Our Country’s Good. Timberlake Wertenbaker’s play, based on The Playmaker by Thomas Keneally, was originally staged by Stafford-Clark at the Royal Court in 1988. Based on the 18th Century real life performance of The Recruiting Officer by convicts in Australia, what this plays sets out to do – and what this production definitely achieves – is to highlight the hugely redemptive and positive force that theatre can have on individual’s lives.

The set is a beautiful frame of stripped wood, and what appear to be several rolled sails, revealed over the course of the show to be backdrops which are hoisted in and out by the cast. Ideal for a touring production like this one, but also a clear reminder of the sparse existence that these convicts where subjected to in Australia, the set is simple but effective. It is cleverly manipulated by the cast to alter the space throughout the show and Johanna Town’s lighting is equally effective in highlighting both the set and the cast.

The cast themselves are all strong. Dominic Thorburn leads as Second Lieutenant Ralph Clark, the director of this dramatic endeavour, and is both coolly comic and moving in turns. Matthew Needham as the theatrical Sideway and Kathryn O’Reilly as the wilful, challenging Liz Morden also give particularly strong performances, but this is very much a group effort, and no link in the chain of this cast is weak. The most effective scenes are those of the large group rehearsals, where the direction gives an incredibly naturalistic edge to the play. I think it is a huge complement to the cast that I was surprised there were actually only ten of them, and I didn’t realise who was doubled up as who!

I’ve encountered the monumental role that theatre can have in improving the lives of people first hand. Together with sports, I think youth theatres across the nation have a massive role in engaging young people and shaping the adults they become. The majority of the audience when we saw this show were under the age of twenty, and I hope that some of them at least will have left feeling that just perhaps the theatre, whether on or off stage, is somewhere that they can find out something new about themselves and change both the way the view the world and act within it.

That this play has been revived at the current time should come as little surprise. It has become a modern classic and is studied by hundreds of A-level students, but more than that the political climate has returned to one that threatens theatre. Theatre groups, including Out-of-Joint themselves, are feeling the effects of the financial cuts that have swept the board. Just at a time when people need the escapism and perspectives on life that theatre can offer, companies are struggling to financially support their endeavours. We need a reminder that the arts aren’t, as many people would claim, a bonus we can just have when society is thriving. Instead they are one of its crowning glories and part of what makes and shapes humanity. You don’t have to convince me the arts are important, and I truly believe that plays like this one, when performed as well as this, have the power to convince even the non-believer too.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

Our Country’s Good runs at the Watford Palace Theatre until 10th November 2012 before it continues its National tour. It returns to London from 30th January – 9th March 2013 at the St. James Theatre.
For details of the tour, and to book tickets for all venues visit http://www.outofjoint.co.uk/prods/our-countrys-good-tour-dates.html

About Everything Theatre

Everything Theatre
Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.