Thurs 27th February - Sat 28th February & Tues 4th March - Sat 8th March 1997
Directed by Ali Bullivant
1789 - Australia - Lieutenant Ralph Clark is directing rehearsals of the first play ever to be staged in Australia. There are only two copies of the text, the cast is made up of convicts, the leading lady is about to be hanged...
'Our Country's Good' is an A level text. There will be an after-show discussion, for students, with the cast, on Tuesday 4th March and Thursday 6th March.
'Our Country's Good' was written in 1988 for a specific company of actors at The Royal Court Theatre in London and is based on a true story of convicts rehearsing a play. Actors and writer engaged in an intensive two-week workshop researching the themes of the novel 'The Playmaker', by Thomas Keneally upon which the play is based. The final version of the play was presented in conjunction with 'The Recruiting Officer' and was directed by Max Stafford-Clark who identified the main themes as the human ability to transcend circumstances, the potential of theatre to change lives and the power of language.
The play follows the true life story of a group of convicts who having been deported to the colony of Australia, found themselves required to act in a production of George Farquhar's comedy 'The Recruiting Officer' which was staged in the penal colony of New South Wales in 1789. The actual production was the responsibility of Ralph Clark, an idealistic young lieutenant, who believed the drama would be a more salutary lesson than public hanging. How ironic then, that the choice of Farquhar's play should show British officers in such an unflattering light.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Captain Arthur Phillip, RM||Peter Corrigan|
|Major Robbie Ross, RM||David Penrose|
|Captain David Collins, RM||John Batstone|
|Captain Watkin Tench, RM||Damon Wakelin|
|Captain Jemmy Campbell, RM||Pete Woodward|
|Reverend Johnson||Rita de Bunsen|
|Lieutenant George Johnston, RM||Sally Hartley|
|Lieutenant Will Dawes, RM||John Blackmore|
|Second Lieutenant Ralph Clerk, RM||Simon Walton|
|Second Lieutenant William Faddy, RM||Louise Arnold|
|Midshipman Harry Brewer||Pete Woodward|
|An Aboriginal Australian||Daniel Langford|
|John Arscott||Damon Wakelin|
|Black Caeser||Daniel Langford|
|Ketch Freeman||David Penrose|
|Robert Sideway||John Batstone|
|John Wisehammer||John O'Hanlon|
|Mary Brenham||Louise Arnold|
|Dabby Bryant||Sally Hartley|
|Liz Morden||Eve Walker|
|Duckling Smith||Katy Smith|
|Meg Long||Rita de Bunsen|
|Singers||Ingrid Corrigan |
|Didgeridoo player||Matthew Aldridge|
|Assistant Director||Damon Wakelin|
|Stage Manager||Deb Money|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Katy Smith|
|Lighting Design||Ali Bullivant |
|Lighting Operation||Jacquie Hodgetts |
|Wardrobe Supervisor||Sue Walton|
|Wardrobe Assistants||Helena Whalley, Rosemary Sawyer|
|Publicity||Niel Pugmire |
|Poster Design||Will Reeves|
Particular demands are made on all practitioners involved in Our Country's Good. The twenty two scenes in the play alternate between sizable groups of officers or convicts, intimate scenes involving only two people, and the lone aborigine. The scenes shift between day and night and continually shift mood. The reality of the situation is mostly dark, yet there is great wit and comedy within the play. The comedy emerges only if the characters are in earnest. This is not a fun play about theatre conventions but a story about convicts (not actors) who do not want to be where they are.
Our Country's Good is consciously 'theatrical' and it regularly draws attention to itself as a play. It was written originally for ten actors with 'doubling' parts in mind. Women play male officers, convicts play officers, white people play black people. There is no attempt to create a wholly naturalistic world, rather a 'stage reality'. Simple costume changes, a few essential props, and a suggestion of Australia through set allow the audience to realise that no attempt is being made to offer a window onto the world of 18th century Australia. As Mary Brenham says in Act 2 scene 1, 'This is the theatre. We will believe you.'
Timberlake Wertenbaker's play is set in Australia in 1789, but it is about here and now. It is about those who are happy that justice and humaneness have never gone hand in hand and those who talk of redemption and the ugliness of injustice. And it's about the way theatre can give self-respect to abused performers and enlightenment to a cynical audience.
At its heart is a scene in which a sneering, bullying major in the marines humiliates a group of convicts one by one, is baffled by their dignified escape into a play withing the play, and fights back in the only way he knows how - by brutalising the lonely and powerless.
The scene is managed perfectly by Ali Bullivent in her impressive Bench Theatre production. She has also captured the broad comedy of the rehearsals where a grand John Batstone hilariously plays a convict playing Garrick playing Hamlet. Also outstanding in a busy consistent cast are regular Bench front-liners David Penrose and Pete Woodward, and newcomer Louise Arnold. She gives a nicely-detailed performance as a sensitive convict who plays the leading lady.
The News 28th February 1997