Our Country's Good

Written by Timberlake Wertenbaker

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.

AuthorTimberlake Wertenbaker

Lael Louisiana Timberlake Wertenbaker (b 1944)

A British writer, born in New York and raised in the Basque area of France, she is the daughter of Charles Wertenbaker - a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine - and Lael Tucker Wertenbaker - author. She graduated from St. John's College, USA in 1966 and began her career writing for Time-Life books. She then went on to professional teaching, lecturing in both Greek and French, before moving to London in the early '80s, where she first developed an interest in writing for the theatre, and became a resident-writer for the small theatre companies Shared Experience in 1983 and the Royal Court Theatre from 1984-85.

Having been the Royal Court Theatre's writer-in-residence in 1985, she had her most successful play, 'Our Country's Good' performed there in 1988. She is the author of many plays for the stage and for radio, and has translated works by authors including Jean Anouilh, Racine, Sophocles, and Euripides. She has won many awards, including, an Evening Standard Award, a Laurence Olivier Award, a Drama Critics' Circle Award, a Critics' Circle Theatre Awards and a Writers' Guild Award. Her other works include the plays 'The Love of the Nightingale' and 'Three Birds Alighting on a Field'.

PlayOur Country's Good

'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.

The Bench Production

Our Country's Good poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Captain Arthur Phillip, RMPeter Corrigan
Major Robbie Ross, RMDavid Penrose
Captain David Collins, RMJohn Batstone
Captain Watkin Tench, RMDamon Wakelin
Captain Jemmy Campbell, RMPete Woodward
Reverend JohnsonRita de Bunsen
Lieutenant George Johnston, RMSally Hartley
Lieutenant Will Dawes, RMJohn Blackmore
Second Lieutenant Ralph Clerk, RMSimon Walton
Second Lieutenant William Faddy, RMLouise Arnold
Midshipman Harry BrewerPete Woodward
An Aboriginal AustralianDaniel Langford
John ArscottDamon Wakelin
Black CaeserDaniel Langford
Ketch FreemanDavid Penrose
Robert SidewayJohn Batstone
John WisehammerJohn O'Hanlon
Mary BrenhamLouise Arnold
Dabby BryantSally Hartley
Liz MordenEve Walker
Duckling SmithKaty Smith
Meg LongRita de Bunsen
SingersIngrid Corrigan
Alice Corrigan
Cathy O'Hanlon
Ruth Prior
Didgeridoo playerMatthew Aldridge


Director Ali Bullivant
Assistant Director Damon Wakelin
Stage Manager Deb Money
Assistant Stage Manager Katy Smith
Lighting Design Ali Bullivant
Andrew Caple
Lighting Operation Jacquie Hodgetts
Stuart Monk
Wardrobe Supervisor Sue Walton
Wardrobe Assistants Helena Whalley, Rosemary Sawyer
Simon Walton
Designer Lynn Nichols
Publicity Niel Pugmire
Katy Smith
Poster Design Will Reeves

Director's Notes

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.'

Ali Bullivant


The NewsMike Allen

Far away - here and now

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

Production Photographs